While he will always be remembered for his part in the 1970 VFL Grand Final, Donald Graham Jolley’s life will be celebrated for his involvement in football, umpiring and community.
In the 1960’s, when the one field umpire system made any new addition to the weekly VFL Senior Panel newsworthy, Don’s elevation made back page news in the Sun News Pictorial. Ray Sleeth was promoted that same week but it was Don’s photo that graced the story.
Born on 22 July 1934, Don grew up in Coburg and Brunswick and played football for Lincoln Stars U17s (, North Brunswick YCW, Coburg YCW (of which he became a Life Member) and Carlton in the Sunday Football League.
His rise to umpiring senior football began when he joined the VFL Reserve Grade for the 1959 season after a work colleague recommended it as a great way to meet people. He was promoted to the Senior List in 1962 and until early 1966 umpired the usual apprenticeship in the country. In 1994 he recalled many of the country towns consisted of “a wheat silo, a footy ground, a pub and that’s it – it really taught you to stick up for yourself.” At the beginning of 1966 he was promoted to the VFL Reserve Grade for round three and only three weeks later moved into the ‘big six’. His first VFL senior match was St.Kilda versus Fitzroy at Moorabbin and earned him Heritage Number 247. That week he and Ray Sleeth replaced Peter Sheales and Jim Brewer and joined Don Blew, Stan Fisher, Barry Gaudion and Jeff Crouch.
That first season realised eight senior matches (including a first round night series match), nine Reserve Grade matches and two country Grand Finals.
From that point his experience grew and bigger, better appointments came his way. The night series Semi-Final and Grand Final in 1968 and VFL Preliminary Final and Reserve Grade Grand Final in 1969 set up the land mark season of 1970. 1969 also saw the game Don recalls as his favourite. The home and away clash between Carlton and Richmond in round 19 was vital in the race for the finals.
“The game went to and fro all day. It was just goal for goal; an amazing game of footy. It was also a very hard game to umpire – Richmond needed to win to make the finals and you had to be on the ball from go to whoa.”
Jolley’s big year was 1970. He was again appointed to the VFL Preliminary Final and on Grand Final day walked with Jeff Crouch to front the Umpires Appointment Board to see who would officiate and who would be emergency umpire. Don got the nod and his part in the Grand Final of the Century was sealed forever. Jolley always said that after a dose of early tension the match was relatively easy to umpire. And he was always grateful to Jeff Crouch for the support he showed on that day.
Despite a successful 1971 he felt football was getting too fast for him and decided to retire having completed 90 VFL matches. His final three matches were all finals: the La Trobe Valley and Hampden Grand Finals and a VFL night series semi-final.
If his on-field career in umpiring had ended then his contribution in other areas was about to begin. He became Umpires Advisor for the VFL Reserve Grade 1972-75 and he was the first administrator for the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Sports Association from 1972-77. For the work in this latter role he was awarded Life Membership of the Association.
Disaster struck on 31 October 1978 when Don was seriously injured in a car accident. Immediate operations to correct a damaged aorta and multiple stitches to forehead lacerations were compounded when it was discovered that damage to his spine meant Don would be a paraplegic.
Undaunted by this he realised it was just another challenge to overcome and in the ensuing years he became a passionate advocate in all manner of disability issues. As a lawn bowler for the Carlton, Ringwood and Heathmont Bowling Clubs he became the first to receive approval to play in a wheelchair and tasted premiership success with Ringwood in 1991. For his services to disabled sport Don received the Order of Australia in 1988. He was particularly involved at the Austin Hospital as both a fundraiser and counsellor.
Nor was Don lost to umpiring. It was through his work that the VFL Grand Final Umpires Club came into existence and he was Umpires Advisor at the South-East Suburban Football League for two seasons in 1984-85. This followed two years as Umpires Advisor for the Southern Umpires Association on the Mornington Peninsula.
Prior to 1970, the VFL did little to recognize its Grand Final umpires. Other than receiving a match appointment form, and the match payment, umpires received no form of recognition from the VFL for their achievement. In 1971, Don established the Grand Final Field Umpires Club. He designed a logo and produced a tie featuring it. He made contact with all of the living Grand Final field umpires and arranged a dinner for them on Preliminary Final Eve, which then became an annual event.
Initially they paid their own way, including the cost of the tie, but eventually some effective lobbying by Don resulted in the VFL picking up the cost of the dinner each year. Today the AFL hosts an AFL Grand Final Umpires Function each year during the Finals Series. Don’s original idea of a tie presentation is still the way induction into the club is marked.
More recently Don became an Associate Member of the AFLUA and as such qualified for Life membership which was duly presented in 2005.
Don passed away on 5 December 2008 aged 64. No better words to sum up the life he lived are those of his friend an colleague the late Jeff Crouch who wrote in 1978, “His fighting spirit is incredible. Jol’ was a top umpire largely because he had the respect of the players and the administrators. He treated umpiring seriously but was never short of the right phrase to break up scenes that could have become ugly. He certainly has a stack of friends from all walks of life.
Vale Don Jolley. A great umpire and much, much more.