Old Umpires Never Die

2015 McSweeney, Macpherson, Huon thumbnailHow does the saying go?  “Old umpires never die, they simply lose their whistle.”

Such was the case today when these two former Sydney umpires paid a surprise visit to the Society’s rooms at the Western Suburbs Aussie Rules Club, Croydon Park.

On the left in the pic is Jim McSweeney who did his first umpiring job in the mid 1950s;  He is now 81.  And on the right is Chris Huon, the man we described forever a bridesmaid, never a bride, meaning that he got second place in at least three umpiring appointments in Sydney during his career.

He told the story today that in the days of the single umpire in the late 1960s, two would be appointed to the grand final.  Both would dress and ready themselves for the game.  Then, the chairman of the Umpires’ Appointment Board would come into the umpires room at Trumper Park and announce who was to control the game.  Chris always got second place and the position of reserve umpire, on the bench.

Nevertheless the two assumed a number of roles in their time on the committee of the Umpires’ Association, from president through to treasurer.

The two still umpire today, this time they officiate in the Masters Football Competition in Sydney.

Chris brought with him a number of items he donated to the Society which were precious to him during his time with the whistle.  They include rule books, appointment sheets, notes on umpiring, meeting minutes etc.  The Society will scan then house these objects in their collection at Croydon Park.

While Jim had with him a photo of the umpires who officiated in the 1969 Under 19 Grand Final.  From left: Graeme 1969 U19 Grand Final Umpires thumbnailWhykes, Ken Smith, Leo Magee, Jim McSweeney, Peter Ryder, Bert Odewahn, Pat McMahon, Bob Tait.  Here again, Jim was the ‘reserve’ umpire.

The man in the middle of these two old umpires at top is Paul Macpherson, Vice President of the History Society and himself a former umpire in the Diamond Valley League, Melbourne.

Mal Lee

1967 Sydney Grand Final UmpiresA chance mention by school teacher, Paul McSweeney, about Australian football and umpiring led to one of his young students, Rachel, to mention that her Pop was an umpire.

“What is his name”asked Paul, son of NSW Umpires’ Association Life Member, Jim McSweeney.

“Malcolm”was the timid reply.

“Malcolm?” then after a slight pause, “Not Mal Lee” Paul questioned.  “Yes, thats him.”

Paul told his father which led to a gathering of 1960s Sydney umpires at the Carringbah home of Mal Lee’s son just before Christmas 2014.

Mal Lee was known to many in Sydney football circles during the 1960s and early 70s.

He came to Sydney from Yarraville in the late 1950s and because he lived at Rosebery, turned out with the South Sydney Club.  However the then slightly built Lee found it all a bit daunting and still wanting an involvement in the game, signed up to umpiring.

He started in the seconds and on the boundary for firsts but slowly began to make himself a name.

A straight talker with an open mind became one of the best umpires in the history of football to grace Sydney grounds.

He umpired  the 1963, 67 & 68 Sydney grand finals plus grand finals on the South Coast and Newcastle.

Malcolm was President of the Umpires’ Association from 1966-70, treasurer in 1962 and umpires’ coach between 1971-75.

After this Mal moved away from Sydney and lost contact with his friends and peers.

His standout involvement led to him being inducted into the NSW Umpires’ Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2001.  Unfortunately the honour could not be bestowed on him personally because his whereabouts were unknown.

Jim McSweeney realised this anomaly and after making contact with Mal and knowing he was to be in Sydney, made arrangements for the plaque to be presented to him at his Christmas visit to his family.

2014 Old Umpires Group thumbnail 2014 Mal Lees Umpires Award thumbnail
back l-r: Graham Allomes, Bill Allen, Chris Huon,
Unknown, Front: Len Palmer, Mal Lee, Jeff Dempsey
The Award

Jim also arranged for several of his old colleagues to be present at the informal ceremony, including Len Palmer, Bill Allen, Chris Huon, Grahm Allomes, Jeff Dempsey and ? .  Their attendance was a surprise.

They are all photographed here with Mal holding his award.2014 Ian Granland and Mal Lee thumbnail

Unfortunately Jim could not join then after being rushed to hospital for a triple by-pass.  He is recovering well.

While in Sydney and out of the blue, he and his family paid a visit to the Society’s Rooms at Wests Magpies Club.  Fortunately it was on a Tuesday, the day that some members of the committee gather at the club for their working bees.

He was shown various items relating the the period in which he was involved, particularly with regards to umpiring.  He was able to identify several personnel from the umpiring fraternity in the numerous photographs the Society have in their collection. Also, Mal offered several items of memorabilia he has in his possession which relate to his time in Sydney and state football.  During his visit he took out a 3 year membership subscription with the Society

Malcolm is pictured here with the Football History Society President, Ian Granland.


As this season fades into history, we have been looking round for something to write about.  The question is, where do we start.

Then we identified a year which heralded so much change to football in NSW: 1970.

It would take several sessions to outline what did take place in that year, so we have centred on just a few events.

It was Australia’s Bi-Centenary.  The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh together with Princess Anne and Prince Charles visited Australia to join with the rest of the country in the celebrations.

And they didn’t miss watching a game of Australian football as shown in the photo – details below

And in Sydney, a show for the Royals was put on at the Trocodero in Sydney’s George Street.  This was a large dance and concert hall that operated between 1936 and 1971.  It was once regarded as the “most glamorous dance palace in Sydney and accommodated up to 2,000 people”. It was the favoured venue for university and school ‘formals’, and hosted many important local rock and pop concerts during the 1960s.  The block of cinemas has replaced the old Troc. between Liverpool and Bathurst Streets.

It was April when the Royal party “met young sportsmen (we don’t know if the word sportsmen refers to both genders) from all parts of the state” we were told.

Our Australian Rules representatives included David Sykes, captain coach of Newtown, Rodney Tubbs the captain coach of Sydney University Club, Bob Sterling and Emmanuel (Manny) Keriniaua from the St George Club.  Also Ian Allen, North Shore and NSW centre half back and Chris Huon, one of the young brigade of umpires making their mark on Sydney football.”

Both David Sykes, Ian Allen and Chris Huon are members of the Football History Society.

On the opening day of the season a team of Northern Territory Aboriginal Schoolboys played a Sydney Schoolboys team in an Under 16 match.  The boys from the north cleaned up the Sydney side, 17-12 (114) to 11-12 (78) at Picken Oval.

It is interesting to look at the names of some of the Sydney players and the junior clubs they came from. For example:



Alan Bouch (son of NSWAFL Board Member, Doug) Warringah
Graeme Foster  –  later Balmain, East Sydney and NSW player Ermington
Mark Andrews(son of Brian, a former state player and Balmain coach) who played with North Shore Warringah
David McVey –  who went on to win a Kealey Medal with St George
Mark McClurelater captain of Carlton FC Eastern Suburbs
Greg Harris –  later state player and captain coach of East Sydney FC St George
Bill Free  – former Newtown player was the coach
Other junior clubs that no longer exist or have had a name change: Warwick Farm, Holsworthy, Green Valley, Bankstown Sports, Manly/Seaforth


In 1970, the long term league secretary Ken Ferguson retired and was given a well attended sendoff at the Western Suburbs Club.

At last the league introduced a second division after years of half-hearted attempts to cater for burgeoning clubs in Sydney.  The clubs that comprised the league’s other open age competition since the demise of the Metropolitan Australian National Football Association in 1952 were: Warringah, St Ives, Salasians, Penshurst, UNSW, Sydney University and Western Suburbs.  Later, North Shore and South Sydney also entered teams.

The second division thing just wasn’t right, it was unbalanced.  Because they didn’t have enough clubs to go round in a stand alone competition, Sydney Uni, UNSW, South Sydney and Macquarie University fielded their senior teams in the normal open age reserve grade, which, like today, created problems at away games.  This was corrected the following season.

1970-04-01 - Chris Huon Invitation to Royal Reception small1970 was Sydney Naval’s last hurrah.  It was their final year in the competition after such a splendid involvement in the game dating back to 1881.  There was an attempt to combine the club with the struggling South Sydney side but that too failed. South in fact, were on their knees after being relegated following a number of poor seasons.  But with a band of willing workers they managed a further half a dozen years.

There were early moves to play a Victoria v South Australia game at the SCG mid season.  The expenses were estimated at in excess of $30,000 (assessed using the Reserve Bank of Australia’s calculator today at $317,647.06), seems a bit rich, but thats the reason the game did not go ahead and Sydney had to wait until 1974 to see the Vics play the Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Big news during the season was that Wests were to lose their home ground of Picken Oval to a supermarket complex.  Canterbury Council failed to give the idea the green light so it was shelved but it didn’t take too many years before a further and very damaging issue effected the relationship between Wests and their ground.

The Newtown club opened clubrooms on the normally unknown mid level in the grandstand at Erskineville Oval.  It wasn’t long though before they moved their social activities to the old Stage Club at 303 Cleveland Street, Redfern which became the Newtown Rules Club.

And finally for the first time in Sydney, the ABC telecast highlights of two VFL games each Saturday Night at the very late time of 10:50pm, well before the introduction of domestic VCR – recorders.  It didn’t take long before the then very conservative ABC decided to ditch the show producing howls of complaint from footy followers.  So much so that the league printed a form on which supporters could register their PROTEST to the Director of Programmes, ABC 2, Sydney. It worked and these highlights were retained for the rest of the season.

Our photograph of course is not Sydney football, but the Queen being introduced to the Fitzroy team in the same year.  Some questions for you about this event:

*  What ground was the game played at?
*  Which team played Fitzroy on that day?
*  What was the most unusual and in fact unique circumstance of this game?

And seeing Australia lost probably its most iconic prime minister this week, it is worth a mention that either in the late fifties or early sixties, Gough took one of his sons along to Rosedale Oval to learn the game of Australian football.  We don’t think there were many follow up visits.

You can send your answers to this address: Click here.

What Comes Around Goes Around

1973 John K Phillips 2Sydney football has had their share of thugs and imbeciles over the years who do the game and themselves no good.

We could list many players who suffered at the hands of the local tribunal – and also an onfield square-up over the years.

There was one or maybe two who received a lifetime ban from football for assaulting an umpire and another for kicking only to have the ban overturned in recognition of the visit to Australia by the Queen a few years later.  Of course these type of player/s had not changed their ways and it didn’t take long before they were again outed by the league.

The overturning of suspensions at the time of a Royal visit was not uncommon in a number of sports at the time.

One newspaper report from June 1972 took our eye regarding a Balmain player, John Phillips.

John had played his under age football with North Shore but transferred to Balmain when his family shifted their residence.

He was a handy player but, like many, became a victim of the demon drink.  His work as a NSW policeman was also effected because of his poor social habits.

On June 10, John was reported by central umpire, Chris Huon in the first grade game between North Shore and Balmain at North Sydney Oval, for striking.

At the subsequent tribunal hearing at Football House in Regent Street Chippendale, John was found guilty and given a four week suspension.Phillips small

As the group descended the narrow stairs in the building, he gave umpire Huon a mouthful which unfortunately for him was overheard by the tribunal, at the time headed by John Stewart, father of former History Society Secretary, Greg.

Phillips was called back before the Tribunal and suspended for the remainder of the season.  This time he kept his mouth shut as he and companions left the building.

Phillips later played at Griffith in the Riverina and then on the Central Coast.  He died some years ago at an early age.

How Times Change

1959 Miranda Under 12's A smallerMiranda is one of the oldest and continuous junior clubs in NSW.

It is located in the Sutherland Shire along with a two or three more junior clubs.

The club is known as the Miranda Bombers and many long years having spawned many senior footballers into the Sydney competition as well as forming a foundation for many young people who would later become leaders in their field.

We were provided with the attached photograph taken in 1959 at the Boystown field at Engadine.  It is the Miranda Under 12 team who were to go on to win the premiership that season.

Coloured photographs of that period are quite rare and we are very lucky to have it in our collection.  The names of the members of the team are enumerated under the image and you will see the likes of Vince and Pat McCourt, Peter Kilmister and Chris Huon, who later took up umpiring having a very successful career in Sydney in the late 1960s-70s.

If you have any old photos, send them into us for general presentation.


1969 NSWAFL 1st Grade Grand Final Umpires smallChris Huon is a life member of the NSW Australian Football Umpires’ Association.

Chris lived in Sydney and was introduced to Australian Rules football by the McCourt family who lived next door.  He joined Vince and Pat who were already playing for Miranda in the St George Area starting in the under 12’s and continued until the under 16’s when he transferred to St Patrick’s in 1963 which was closer to home.

In his final years of junior football Chris became interested in umpiring and started officiating in junior games.

Upon finishing junior football, Chris had two choices? Try out for third grade with the St George club or continue with umpiring.  He adopted the latter.

In 1963 he joined the NSW Umpires Association and at the same time assumed the challenge of arranging umpires for the St George District JAFA from Alan Gibbons who had done it for years. This took Chris in contact with Jim McSweeney who proved an inspiration with his guidance and instruction, assisting him at this time both on the junior front and also on the senior group.

He started his senior career as a boundary Umpire soon finding his way to third grade (U19) games before his eventual promotion through second to first grade where he went on to umpire 97 games as a central umpire before retiring at the end of the 1975 season.

Fortunately for us (and you), Chris kept a scrap book.  Included in the book are newspaper articles and, Football Records, his umpiring appraisals, reports and other very interesting documents.

Here are the Sydney umpires’ fees in 1969:

1ST $9.60 $5.25 $3.20
RESERVE $6.00 $3.20 $2.30
UNDER 19 $4.25

Clubs provided goal and boundary umpires for the Under 19 grade.

Chris was treasurer of the Umpires’ Association in 1972-73.

Although continually overlooked for a first grade grand final, Huon was a very accomplished umpire. He was selected as the 1970-04-01 - Chris Huon Invitation to Royal Reception smallcentral umpire in the June 1969 inter-state fixture between NSW and South Australia Seconds at the SCG.  Additionally, the following year he was one of only two umpires chosen to represent the association at a Royal Reception for the Queen and Prince Phillip held in Sydney.  We have attached a copy of the invitation on the right.

His 1970 Umpires’ Association membership form can be viewed here, just click. Scroll for two pages.

Below is an inventory of payments Huon received in 1971, obviously hand written by the association treasurer.  Strangely enough, most of his appointments that year were either in reserve grade or in second division.  Towards the latter part of the season he was back on the first grade panel.  Note the fine for non-attendance at training.

1971 Payments Umpire Report
1971 Chris Huon Payments small 1972 Player Report by Chris Huon small
Umpire Appraisal Club Report
on Umpire
1971 Umpire Observer's Report on Chris Huon small 1969 Club report on umpire Chris Huon small


Also included is a 1972 umpire’s report by Huon on a South Sydney player for striking Western Suburbs player, John Caulfield.  The reported player was later a long term member of the league’s tribunal!  In this instance he was found guilty and received 3 weeks.

Further, there is a far from complimentary 1969 report by South Sydney club official Allan Sullivan, BA JP, on a Club Umpire Appraisal Form in a separate match against Western Suburbs.  The form is dated 3 April, it should read 3 May.  Brian McMahon, the Western Suburbs official,  who completed a similar form described Huon’s effort as: “commendable performance.  Appeared to exercise good control and he was consistent.  A hard game to umpire but a job well done.” Wests won the game 33.24 (222) to 2.7 (19).  Souths did not have a good season that year.

We add this because Allan went on to become a successful secretary then president of the Western Suburbs Club.

Then there is a 1971 hand written report by an umpires’ observer on Huon’s performance in a first grade match between Balmain and Western Suburbs at Picken Oval.  John Lanser, a former chairman of the Tribunal, is noted as a boundary umpire in the game.

Finally, we found a report from a 1969 pre-season game between Balmain and South Sydney where Huon was complimented for his effort in a report that said:

A first class effort was turned in by Chris Huon.  He is superbly fit and was
able to give decisive decisions.  It should be a great battle to see who makes
the first grade panel for the opening fixtures – NSWAFL Football Record 6 April 1969


The image at the top of this report is the 1969 first grade, grand final umpires who are: back row, l-r: Leo McDonald, Stephen Sewell, front row: Graham Whykes (trainer), Ken Potts (boundary), Chris Huon (emergency umpire), Brian O’Donohue (central umpire), Dave Cullen (boundary), Bob Tait (trainer).  The photo was taken at Trumper Park prior to the commencement of the game.

These are in the days of one field umpire.  Both Whykes and Tait were field and boundary umpires and as members of the association, volunteered to be the umpires’ trainers for the day.


1961 Bankstown FC U19s with names smallSociety officials are slowly working their way through a number of publications with a view of posting them on the website for viewing by the public.

Already they have posted the 1927 Sydney Football Records but are concerned at their final presentation.

They have scanned nearly 200 league and club annual reports from Newtown, St George, South Sydney, Western Suburbs and Eastern Suburbs clubs  and now over the next few weeks they will be processed for listing on the site.

In addition to this, a number of football records and other documents are being prepared for the website.

Added to this are photographs and documents lent to the Society by former leading Sydney umpire of the 1960s and 70s, Chris Huon.  He had presented the History Society with these items which will be scanned, copied and returned.

As well, the wife of Danny Mills, former leading Under 19 player with the 1950-60s Bankstown Club, and Kealey Medal Winner has given the Society a swag of Football Records from his period, a number of which the Society do not have copies.  Mrs Mills also supplied the attached photograph which shows the Bankstown Football Club Under 19s in 1961.

So, the online repository of the Society’s collection will soon be made available for open viewing.


1970s Sydney Umpires smallWow, have we unearthed a plethora of photos from the umpiring fraternity from the late sixties into the eighties.

Committeeman, Ian Wright contacted former umpiring guru, Jim McSweeney who seconded former Society member, Chris Huon, to help identify a mysterious umpiring group from what we thought was the 1970s – attached.

The image was taken at Erskineville Oval, the umpires’ training venue at the time, on Monday 9 March 1970, where VFL Assistant Umpires’ Advisor, Norm Grant visited Sydney to present lectures and assist umpires in the finer points of their particular discipline.  He also visited the South Coast.  Umpires trained on Mondays and Wednesdays.

His week long visit was funded by the Rothmans National Sport Foundation, an organisation set up by the manufacturers of Rothmans Cigarettes to promote the development and education of various sports.  It is fair to say that the local league received a reasonable amount of assistance from the Foundation.

Fortunately, both McSweeney and Huon were able to identify 90% of those in this picture which we have since named.

The umpires’ coach in 1970 was Brian O’Donoghue, who also acted as field umpire.  In the photo is Graham Allomes, who is reputed to have boundary umpired in more games than any other person in senior league football and is identified in the centre row.

While the majority in the photograph have been identified there are some that have not.  If you can assist, please let us know.