– Hard Times For Umpires

Leo Harry, NSW AFL
Life Member and
Vice President

Umpires and umpiring in Sydney have had their share of strife from being assaulted to going on strike.

The umpires’ Association was formed in *1920 [1] mostly through the efforts of long time umpire and league advocate, Leo Errington Harry, better known as Leo Harry.  He was secretary and treasurer of the Association for 10 years and team manager of numerous state teams.  He was rewarded with life membership of the league in 1940.  The umpiring regime owes him a lot.

In July 1924 Tom Chinnick accompanied a Victorian schoolboys team to Sydney where they competed in a national carnival.  Chinnick was an umpire in a Melbourne suburban league and later the Mornington Peninsular Football Association.  While in Sydney, he agreed to a offer by the league to officiate in a major club game provided “the umpire listed for the match suffered no pecuniary loss.”

The Umpires’ Association met the night before games resulting in an umpires walkout if Chinnick officiated in the match.

This strained relations between the league an umpires’  association and Chinnick withdrew his “proffered” assistance and the weekend matches proceeded without further incident. [2]

Only a few months later Alec Mutch, a VFL umpire officiated in a finals match in Sydney.  This caused so much consternation in the umpiring ranks that they tendered their resignation as a body.  Mutch’s services had been secured through the VFL permit and umpire committee, “to help the local league in an emergency which had arisen.”

It was reported that “he gave the best exhibition of refereeing seen in an Australian Rules club game in Sydney.”  [3] And yet the umpires all resigned in the following manner as directed to the League Secretary: [4]

“Dear Sir,
I beg to notify you that all umpires connected with this association, including field, boundary, and goal, tender their resignation as umpires to your league from Friday, September 12, 1924.

(Signed) L. E. Harry. Secretary.”

Mutch stayed in Sydney and umpired the grand final the following week, performing splendidly. [5]

The next season the umpires must have swallowed their pride because everything went along quite smoothly until 1933.

This was the year of the National Carnival played at the SCG and in the week preceding the preliminary final the umpires went out for high fees.  They demanded fees be increased from 66 and in some cases 100%. [6]  This was during the big depression and times were hard. The league ignored their demands and the majority of umpires continued to offer themselves for the last two weeks of the season.

The Association disbanded and it was then resolved that the league employ umpires on an individual basis. [7]

This action however caused the disbandment of the umpires’ association and it wasn’t until September 1935 that a successful move was made to reform the organisation.

A further episode on umpiring in Sydney to come

*An Umpires’ Association in Sydney was formed in 1911 but did not appear to last more than two season.

[1] Referee Newspaper 5 May 1920, p.11
[2] Sydney Sportsman 15 July 1924, p.7
[3] The Sun 16 September 1924, p.5
[4] Labor Daily 13 September 1924, p.3
[5] Referee Newspaper 21 September 1924 p.10
[6] Sydney Morning Herald 5 September 1935 p.16
[7] Sydney Morning Herald 26 September 1933 p.16

– Umpires’ Association

Probably a little known fact in Sydney football was the folding of the NSW Australian National Football Umpires’ Association.

The Association was formed in 1911 but appeared not to continue as a combined group.  They were reformed in 1920 under the guidance of Leo Harry, a former umpire in a minor Melbourne League who went on to be the Associations secretary for nine years.  However the association was refused representation at league league level while umpires themselves were 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 that year 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 receiving five shillings or 50c a match.

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.

Towards the end of 1933, during the deep world wide depression, umpires refused to officiate during the finals unless they received a pay increase.  The league utilised other competent personnel to officiate and “the competition was brought to a successful conclusion.”  The umpires were further refused a pay rise at the commencement of the 1934 season with a result that the Umpires’ Association folded. 1

Umpires went without an association until the end of 1935 when a visit to the northern States by Bill Blackburn, a leading Victorian Football League umpire who officiated at the St George v North Shore match in early August following his exhibition in the Collingwood South Melbourne fixture at the Sydney Cricket Ground on the previous Saturday.  L.C. Keating from the Victorian Amateur Football Association  also came to Sydney in an effort to help.  He officiated in the 1935 Sydney grand final. 2

Since that demise of the association a lack of uniformity on the part of field umpires in interpreting rules particularly in relation to the then recent amendments had become apparent and members of the league’s executive committee were favourably disposed towards the proposal to reform the association so that umpires coaching classes can be commenced early in 1936.

With this end in view the members of the umpires appointment board attended one of the weekly referees coaching classes of the New South Wales Rugby League where the methods adopted by that body were closely studied.

Tom King one of the leading Australian Rules umpires at the time called a meeting of umpires at the Sydney Sports Club in Hunter Street in an effort to resuscitate the association.

The result of this meeting is unknown but in all probably it resumed its activities but still unrepresented on the League.SMH – 5 September 1935 p.161.  NSWANFL Annual Report

  1. 1935 NSWANFL Annual Report
    2.  SMH 5 September 1935 p.13

Leo Harry – forever an umpire

Leo Harry, NSW AFL Life Member and Vice President
Leo Harry, NSW AFL Life Member and Vice President

We pulled this out of a 1931 newspaper.

Leo Harry, chairman of tho Umpire Sydney Appointment Board, played for Northcote (Vic.) for three years, and in Sydney for 13 years. He holds what is believed to be an Australian record for umpire’s fees in any code of football.  In 1923 he received 18 guineas (believe it or not, $1200 in today’s money) for umpiring a match at Corowa, NSW. The fee was so high because Leo had to pay another man to do the work he vacated by taking the time off for the trip to the ‘bush’. Mr. Harry is a son of the (very) late Jack Harry, the famous Victorian cricketer of Northcote (Vic.). His son Jack, though only three years of age, promises to follow in his footsteps. Leo says the, youngster can run like a deer.”

Leo came to Sydney following WWI and became involved in football, firstly as an umpire and later as a league official.

He was active as a Vice President of the NSW Football League, Chairman of the Umpires’ Appointment Board for many years, NSW state team manager on several occasions and ground manager at many interstate games and finals.

It was reported in 1929:
Leo. Harry, hon. secretary and founder of the New South Wales Australian Rules Umpires’ Association, will retire at the end of the present season after ten years meritorious service.  Mr. Harry refers with pride to the fact that, when he formed the Association of Umpires ten years ago (1919), they were paid 2/6 ($9 in today’s money) a match. To-day they are paid £1/2/6 ($81 in today’s money). Mr. Harry’s loss will be almost irreparable.”

Then in 1947 a report said:
Leo Harry, claims a record for the code in this State.
He possesses life-membership medals of the N.S.W. League (1940), the NSW Australian National Football Umpire’s Association, and the Metropolitan Juniors’ Association.”

It’s amazing that people, like Leo, do so much for football and they become forgotten with the passing of time.  Leo died in 1962 aged 72.