The demise of the VFL Reserve Grade led to a new career path for goal umpires from district competitions straight into the VFL. Gary Best was among the first to tread this pathway and umpiring at every level was the better for the success he made of the trip. Whether he was relating stories such as being attacked by an Alsatian dog in the goal square at Mornington or by a bee at VFL Park or the latest goings on at the fire-station Besty bought a verve and spark and a smile everywhere he went.
Born Gary William Best on 5 September 1948 Besty grew up in Chelsea where he would remain for his whole life and contribute to his community through service in the Country Fire Authority as well as umpiring
Originally coming to the Southern Umpires Association (SUA) looking to earn some additional cash he stayed for 15 years and became an institution. During this time the SUA had acquired newly built rooms with a professional catering kitchen and it was Gary, whose fund-raising had made much of the building possible, began providing high quality meals – including two choices of mains, sides, crockery and serviettes – on training nights, a far cry from the pie and sauce offered by most sporting clubs at that time. He was always looking to make things better for the members. Ultimately his high quality social events and constant fundraising activities led to a change in culture of the association, fostering a more club like feel that remains today. Gary’s seven years’ service as social secretary earned him life membership of the SUA.
While doing all this off the field Besty built an outstanding career on the field. From 1970-84 he umpired 305 senior matches in the various competitions served by the SUA including 10 Mornington Peninsula and 3 Nepean League grand finals. With such a record there was little doubt he would make the grade when he tried out for the VFL and he was placed on the senior list in 1985.
After a year in the Under 19s and reserves Gary earned Heritage No. 207 when he officiated Geelong versus Melbourne at VFL Park in round 7, 1986. Over the next 10 seasons he worked hard but was only able to break into the senior finals panel once – the 1991 VFL Elimination Final. Nevertheless, there were many other highlights – 1988 VFL Reserves Grand Final, the 1989 and 1993 Ansett Cup Grand Finals, 1993 State of Origin Tasmania v. Queensland/Northern Territory and an Auckland exhibition match in 1991.
Besty also included the ‘double goal square day’ at Princes Park amongst his most memorable. The ground staff had moved the goal posts and painted a new goal square without removing the original. For the first five minutes of the reserves match Gary positioned himself between the behind and goal posts until his mistake was pointed out by a boundary umpire arriving at the behind post. He never tired of telling the story.
At the end of the 1994 season Besty retired having compiled a record of 92 AFL, 60 VFL/AFL reserves, 24 VFL U19 and 6 VFA matches. He was awarded life membership of the AFLUA that year and similarly of the newly formed Victorian Football Umpires Association. As a caterer by trade Gary bought those skills to the very successful AFLUA/VFUA balls held at the Malvern Town Hall in 1995-96 and was a key component in their success.
Following retirement from the flags Gary devoted even more time to the CFA, service for which he was awarded a 50 year certificate just before his death, his catering, for which he was renowned and to travel.
Gary passed away on 16 August 2017. His outgoing, cheery personality, big smile and bright outlook on life will be missed by all who knew him.