Let me introduce you to William Robert Sutton. What? You don’t know who Billy Sutton is?
Over the next few paragraphs I will endeavour to pass onto you the other side of Bill away from umpiring.
Bill was born in Menindee / Broken Hill, New South Wales in 1941, on the banks of the Darling River in a tent, to Bill & Evelyne Sutton. They had eight children, five boys, Tom, Max, Ken, Bill & Geoff and three sisters, Dorothy, Beryl & Betty.
Bill married Alvie and together they have 3 children, a boy Colin and 2 Girls Leanne & Alvina, He has 4 grand children 2 boys and 2 girls.
Bill attended Menindee State School where he played football and rugby, but in the 8th grade had a quarrel with a teacher where Bill slammed the door, unfortunately hitting the teacher. Bill’s mother was called to the school and after some heated discussion it was decided that Bill would leave. He started work not long after on a cattle station at the age of 13½ years. This move from Bill was completely out of character with the remainder of the family, who had all worked in the mines, at Broken Hill.
For the next 5 years, Bill worked on a station driving trucks, including semi’s, he rode and chased horses around the paddocks. This is what established his running ability. In a town of 500 people driving trucks at the age of 16 years brought many enquiries about his age, but Bill as confident as ever would tell all he was 18 and got away with it. He was even challenged many times at the local hotel about his age. In fact the local Policeman Des Ryan called young Sutton out one day and said it was about time he got his licence. He then told Mr Ryan he was born in 1940 putting up his age to obtain the licence. This backfired terribly.
From chasing horses around the paddocks barefoot, Bill soon became known around the district as the young kid with the ability to run fast. Professional runners soon became interested in this “Kid from Menindee” and presented Bill with a pair of spikes. Bill’s reply was “What’s these shoes with nails in the bottom?” But he would wear them everyday on the station chasing the horses to get used to these unusual shoes.
For the next few years, Bill continued to work at many cattle stations as well as taking up professional running. Bill was invited to Stawell in 1959 by his backers. He liked the idea of the BIG cheque to the winner of the big event, and as his backers introduced him to many celebrities with a “non de plume” name, wanting to keep Bill’s ability a secret for the coming years.
In 1960, Bill was offered a job in Melbourne with the State Electricity Commission which he accepted as this would open the doors in Melbourne with his professional foot running. Boarding a flight at Broken Hill on a DC3 aeroplane, he arrived at Essendon, the Sunday before the Melbourne Cup. Having an interest in horse racing and not starting his job with the SEC, until the following Wednesday, Bill thought it would be a great idea to attend the Melbourne Cup. He had a ball and asked, “how long has this been going on?”
Starting work with the SEC, Bill’s backers had organised for him to train for his professional running at the Port Melbourne Football Ground, where he became very good friends with Peter Saultry, 1973 grand final boundary umpire with the VFL. Together they prepared themselves for this BIG event called “The Stawell Gift”, and in 1963 an all out assault was made by these boys resulting in Bill running third in a blanket finish.
Prior to Stawell, Peter had convinced Bill it would be worth his while to become a boundary umpire with the VFL. Bill applied, and the rest is history.
With Bill’s excellent showing at the gift, he was invited to run overseas which required a passport. After filling out the application showing his birth date as 1940, he then applied for a birth certificate and when this came back showing his birth date as 1941, many questions were being asked. No passport granted!
In 1964 Bill attended the Australian Sprint Championships in New South Wales and won all three events, the 75 yard, 130 yard and the 220 yard, which presented him with the sash as Australian Sprint Champion, which he proudly displays in his home today.
Bill’s history in umpiring can be seen below, but his most embarrassing moment came one day at Waverley, in the Hawthorn v. Richmond match. Bill was about to throw the ball in from the boundary, when one of his testicles got stuck and he went down in significant pain. Hawthorn Doctor Ferguson immediately called an ambulance and Bill was rushed off to hospital. No sooner at the hospital when all became normal, only a problem we guys would know about.
Bill’s favourite umpire was Bill Deller. He loves going to Mornington and enjoying a good tale or two with many of his contemporaries from that era, horse racing and any sport are his hobbies. Riding a mountain bike and walking fill in most days.
JUST FOR THE RECORD HERE IS BILL’S HISTORY
1960 :- Started working for the Victorian State Electricity Commission.
1962 :- Joined VFL Reserve Grade List – First Under 19 game.
1962 :- First VFL Reserve Grade game as well as umpiring in Federal and Eastern District Leagues
1964 :- Australian Sprint Champion at Blacktown New South Wales
1967 :- Under 19 grand final replay partnering Ray Frost with Ian Coates the single field umpire and Kevin Barker & Noel McLennan goal umpires making up the team.
Richmond 12.11 defeated Fitzroy 11.11 Played at Skinner Reserve Sunshine.
1969 :- VFL Reserve Grade Grand Final partnering Gary Grant with Don Jolley the single field umpire, with Kevin Barker & Noel McLennan goal umpires making up the team.
Melbourne 12.16 defeated Carlton 8.12
1970 :- Promoted to VFL Senior List
1970 :- 11th April umpired his first VFL game, Heritage Number 333.
Melbourne 14.12 d. Hawthorn 11.19 Partnered by Bob Gulliver,
Field Umpire Ian Coates with Goals Tom Rossiter & Peter Stokes.
1974 :- Umpired VFL grand final partnering Murray Williams with Ian Robinson the single field umpire, with Joe Bell and Dick Sankey
Goal umpires making up the team. Richmond 18.20 d. Nth Melbourne 13.9
1976 :- Retired from umpiring with 127 games, including 6 finals to his credit.
1974 to 79 :- Specialist running coach for Ron Barassi at the North Melbourne Football Club and Melbourne Football Club.
1984 :- Returned to VFL as specialist running coach to all VFL umpiring panels.
1986 :- Appointed VFL Boundary Umpires’ Coach.
1989 :- Awarded Honorary Life Membership of the AFLUA
1989 : – Awarded Life Membership of Victorian Athletic League.
1993 :- Retired from SEC with an excellent retirement package after 33 years in the same job.
1993 :- The position as VFL Boundary Umpires Coach was upgraded to AFL National Director of Boundary Umpires. This was a challenging task which Bill successfully managed and under his leadership umpires from all states were integrated into the AFL panel with his main focus to develop the younger umpires. His Frequent Flyer points came to a huge tally.
1996 – 99 :- Eastern District Football League Boundary Umpires Coach.
2000 :- Introduction of a Bill Sutton Medallion for the most promising boundary umpire. This award was Introduced for Bill’s outstanding service and his contributions to the AFLUA
2001 :- Returned to AFL as National Technical Consultant (Boundary) a position he held until 2002
2009 :- Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the AFLUA – Member of the Hall of Fame Sub- Committee.
2010 :- Inducted into the Hall of Fame, AFLUA following 40 years involvement in umpiring.
Now we all know Bill was an outstanding World Class Foot Runner, but did you know that he finished 3rd in the 1962 Stawell Gift in a blanket finish. Then to top it off in 1963 won the Jack Donaldson 200 metres off 5 yards the boy from Menindee / Broken Hill also took out the Invitation back markers 120 yards in a slick 11.4 sec. off ¾ yard. Who said Bill couldn’t run?
But I consider Bill’s biggest claim to fame, forget grand finals and finals, was when mid Saturday afternoon at Stawell and Bill acting as Chief Steward had this horrible feeling that he had failed to measure the track on behalf of the Victorian Athletic League, which was part of his job. He had not …..um done it. “I measure every other track when I go around Victoria,” he said afterwards.
“I didn’t do it this time because I knew that Stawell has always been on the ball. It has come back to bite me on the backside”. Shortly after 5pm the track was measured properly. It was 3.2 metres too long. Any wonder the times posted on the Saturday were considered by Bill and the other stewards as though all athletes were running dead!
Bill gets super excited about going to Stawell and these days acts as a Starter for the VAL. Bill stated it’s one of many things he looks forward to each year.
These days Bill is happily retired, living in the Rowville Retirement Village. Great chatting with you Bill. The stories are endless.
Article written by: AFLUA Life Member, Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows