The Start of Umpiring in Sydney

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The first competitive football games in Sydney were played in June 1880 between the only two clubs: East Sydney and Sydney.  Walter C Marshall, a Sydney banker, 33 year old member of the Waratah Rugby Club and brother of T S Marshall, the secretary of the Victorian Football Association, was the umpire.

It was noted that his contribution “owed much to the success of the match” through his thorough knowledge of the game.  This infers that Marshall had a deeper understanding of the Victorian game than others.

Most newspaper match reports of the day included the umpire’s name and as gesture of convention, unless his performance was extraordinarily poor, a patronizingly positive comment was added.

Then, the term ‘umpire’ was also used for the adjudicator in rugby and soccer games which was probably a continuation from that used in cricket.

It was normal in those days for each side to appoint a goal umpire the thought being that it demonstrated some ‘evenness’ in the game.  There was never any mention of boundary umpires and in fact they were not introduced until early in the 1900s.

By early August 1885 the NSW Football Association appointed a ‘select committee’ to choose central umpires for matches in a competition which then comprised five Sydney clubs.

W C Hinwood, whose photo appears at the right of our top page front page banner, suggested at a meeting of the Association in early August 1886 that central umpires be appointed and paid for by the Association, such cost to be defrayed equally by the competing clubs.  The club delegates failed to agree to the payment portion of the motion however an amendment which deleted all reference to finance was carried on the casting vote of the chairman.

Principal umpires throughout the 1886 season included: Gutheridge Atkinson, Alf Bismire, Harry Hedger, James J Hynes and F. Lee.

Apparently whistles were not used by umpires who just wore their street clothes during games normally stopped play by using their voice.  Can you imagine it, yelling “stop, free kick”, amid the din of the 3-4,000 who then attended the games played on the spacious and only multi-venued, Moore Park in Sydney?

The trouble with this was that many players did not hear the judge’s decision and the ball would be carried some distance before it was called back.  A suggestion that whistles be used in local games was made in July 1887.

In the same year and for the first time the term ‘central umpire’ was mentioned in the Sydney Mail Newspaper although the author of the article generally criticised the personnel undertaking umpiring duties saying:

“these important functionaries have not generally reached the stage requisite to be successful and very often, especially among the juniors, have matches been utterly spoilt by willing but incapable officials acting in that position.  On the other hand … ”

Times do not change.

By 1888 the NSW Football Association was appointing umpires to all major games (and there were only about a maximum of three each weekend).

In May 1889 another important issue confirmed was the payment of umpires who’s remuneration was fixed at the previous general meeting of the Association.

The 1889 NSW Football Association annual report went on to give the positive points in the game in Sydney but neglected to outline any negatives.  It said there were three ˜important factors:  Most matches were played on enclosed grounds; [we know of only one – ed.]; paid professional umpires were employed in all senior matches with an indication that because of this games were “faster and more interesting” and third, that the Flanagan Challenge Cup was being competed for.

The Flanagan Cup was the actual competition in Sydney which rules (by-laws) had formerly been drawn up and a season fixture set.  Prior to this there was little structure to the competition and club secretaries might meet and say to one another “how about we play you this Saturday …”

On 27 May 1890 the Football decided to engage the prominent Victorian FA umpire, W H Roy, to officiate at the several representative matches planned for Sydney over the approaching weeks.  He was paid a remarkable four pounds ten shillings ($9) per game for these preceding six “big” games.  This was about equivalent to the basic male weekly  wage of the time.

In May 1893, former Tasmanian and future life member of the league, Bob Dawes, wrote in the weekly sporting newspaper, the Referee, blaming the lack of good umpires as the root cause for the game’s demise in Sydney to that date.

The game died in 1895 thankfully to be resurrected in 1903.

On 29 May 1911 a meeting was called for the Sydney Sports Club in Hunter Street for the purpose of forming an umpires’ association.

The Daily Telegraph reported early in June that a meeting of umpires officiating in first grade and Young Australian (junior) competitions was held at the Sports Club on Wednesday Night and it was decided to form an Umpires’ Association to be called “The Australian Rules Umpires’ Association”. Mr G W Petrie was elected president and Mr D Dillon secretary.  He was later replace with L Errington as Secretary-Treasurer.

The object of the association was to introduce a uniform ruling and a more complete understanding of the rules.  Mr Mick Grace, former Fitzroy and Carlton player and later ‘coach’ of football in Sydney, was appointed instructor to the association on behalf of the Australian Football League.  Mr Grace went through the rules of the game with those present, and many points were made clearer.

Umpire W G Prince who was officiating at Erskineville Oval in the YMCA v East Sydney match on 17 June 1911, caught his foot, whilst running across the field, in the tap-box used for watering purposes and sprained an ankle.  He had to be carried off the ground.  Mr Thompson was his replacement.

Some years later it was stated that Leo Harry (subsequent life member of the league) was the founding secretary of the NSW Umpires Association, a position he held for 10 years which ended in 1929.

In 1920 Field Umpires were paid seven and six pence (75c) per club match and twenty five shillings ($2.50) for interstate games with the boundaries umpires to receive five shillings or 50c

In the same year in an ambitious move, the NSW Football League resolved to provide umpires for the South West Football Association (Riverina) providing that they pay the umpires’ fees of £2 ($4) per game and travel expenses. Following an inquiry from the Culcairn Assn in July, as to the cost of obtaining umpires it was resolved that the fee would be three guineas ($6.60) with return rail fare and 6/- (60c) living expenses.

The umpires’ association was also refused a seat on the Board of the league while umpires were also refused a seasons ticket for entry to games and boundary umpires were not allowed to report players unless they were officially appointed by the league.

In 1927, and for the first time in the history of the game in NSW, the appointment of umpires by and independent panel was introduced.  Before this umpires were selected by representatives of the clubs,

The League appointed C S Armstrong, the former Newtown players and state selector, C W Pedler, formerly captain of Eastern Suburbs FC and representative teams and Goldie Thomas, a stalwart of the former East Sydney FC.

It was considered then that “with absolute freedom from club control, umpires would be in a better position to provide service to the game.”  The NSW Football League took its lead in this matter from the Western Aust and Tasmanian Football Leagues and in 1927 a similar policy was adopted by the VFA.

Some Events Concerning Umpiring in Sydney:

1914 The following were the payments umpires received per game in the 1914 Australian All-States Carnival held in Sydney:
Central – £2.10.0 ($5), Boundary – ten shillings ($1), Goal – Seven shillings and sixpence (75c)
1915-18 Umpires do not receive payment during the first world world war.
1927 An ‘independent tribunal’ was appointed to select umpires for games.  Previous to this he umpire was selected by representatives of clubs.
1930 NSWANFLUA formed.  The Assn also provided umpires to the Riverina.
1933 Umpires strike during finals for more pay.

Bert Coleman coaches umpires. The main field umpires included: Frank O’Grady, Alan Bouch, Les Rawle, Herb Conlon, Bill Mc Anulty, Tom King, and Fred Bradley.  George Maraun was one of the goal umpires.

The umpires refused to officiate during the finals unless they received a pay increase.  The league utilised other competent personnel to umpire and “the competition was brought to a successful conclusion.”  The umpires were refused a pay rise at the commencement of the season. (This was during the Great Depression)
Umpire appointments were printed in the preceding Wednesdays edition to the game in the Sydney Morning Herald.

1939 The Football Records note Leo Harry, Robert McWhinney, R Skelton and Tom King as life members of the Umpires’ Assn.
1943 VFL umpire, Jack McMurray Jnr, umpired in Sydney whilst on service with the army.
1944 Umpires’ Fees:

1st Grade:

Central: fifteen shillings to one pound per match. ($1.50 to $2.00)
Goal:  ten shillings to twelve shillings and six pence. ($1 to $1.25)

Boundary: Six shillings to seven and six pence. (60c to 75c)

Central: ten shillings to fifteen shillings ($1 to $1.50)

(There was no Under 18 division)

1948 Mick Clancy is elected life member of the Umpires’ Association.
1949 Umpires’ Fees:

1st Grade:

Central: one pound ten shillings per match ($3)
Goal: one pound ($2)
Boundary: 15/- ($1.50)

Reserve Grade

Central: one pound two and six ($2.25)

1951 At the end of the season, the name of the Association is changed to the NSW National Football Umpires’ Association.
1953 Bill Wagener, later president of the Western Subs licensed club umpires all 1st grade finals.
 1954  George Simpson is elected life member of the Association.  Other life members present at the time include:  Frank Williamson, Fred Bradley and Leo Harry.
1955 John Leber umpires his 100th first grade game.
The League introduce boundary umpires for Sunday games at Trumper Park.
1956 VFL umpire, Alan Nash, umpires the clash between Newtown and Eastern Suburbs Clubs on 24 June.
1957 Alan McIntyre umpires his 300th game on 13 July.  He had been umpiring for 14 years.
St George and Sthn Districts Junior Associations form their own umpires’ associations.
1958 George Maraun is noted in the Football Record as a life member of the assn. (Date of appointment is unknown.)
1960 NSWANFL (The League) introduce boundary umpires for Sunday reserve grade games.
Roy ‘Shorty’ Thomas is elected as a life member of the Umpires’ Association.
1961 The umpires strike on 15 July.
1962 George Wood is elected life membership of the Association.
 1964  Rothmans National Sports Foundation fund the appointment of an Umpires’ Coach for a limited time.
Umpires’ Fees:

1st Grade

Central: three pounds seven and six pence per match ($6.75)

Reserve Grade

            Central: two pounds two and six ($4.25)

1965 NSWANFL introduce boundary umpires to all reserve grade games.
1966 Jack Armstrong elected life member.
1971 Bill Allen is elected life member of the Association.
1973 NSWANFLUA supply umpires to the South Coast AFL.