Greg Sidebottom died doing one of the many things he loved – umpiring football. When the news of his death on the football field from a heart attack was received the reaction was universal. All whose life he had touched, and there were many, recalled his positive outlook, his enthusiasm for whatever he was involved in or simply his infectious smile. There was a deep mourning for the loss of a good man who had had such a profound impact on so many.
Gregory John Sidebottom was born on 12 April 1954 and grew up in Ferntree Gully. He was heavily involved in both football and cricket playing football for five seasons in the junior grades with Ferntree Gully until he suffered two concussions in the last three matches of 1971.
The following year he donned the white coat for a season of goal umpiring in the Yarra Valley and Mountain Districts Football League to “get the feel of what field umpiring looked like” before taking on the whistle. When he did take up the field he was a natural, progressing to the 1976 First Division Grand Final and from there directly onto the VFL senior list. His first season went well although he did preside over the Tooradin-Longwarry match in which both teams believed they were kicking to the same end and it was difficult to find a player to kick the ball back in after the first score.
After a year off football to focus on his education Greg returned to the VFL in 1979 and worked the usual country circuit until 1982 when he broke into the VFL Reserve Grade and finished that season with four VCFL finals.
On 11 June 1983 Greg became the 298th VFL senior field umpire when he officiated at the St.Kilda-North Melbourne match. He maintained his senior spot for each remaining round of the 1983 season including the round 19 Richmond-Collingwood match that saw Kevin Bartlett play his 400th VFL match in front of 81,000 spectators. He was appointed to that year’s Reserve Grade qualifying final and also umpired his first two VCFL grand finals – Western Tasmanian FL and Latrobe Valley FL.
Over the ensuing four years he compiled a record of 39 VFL, 23 Reserve Grade (2 finals) and 128 VCFL matches (21 finals, 5 grand finals) before retiring following the 1987 Hume Football League Grand Final.
Greg had been active with the VFLUA off the field serving on the social committee from 1984-87 under Social Secretary Peter Howe. Peter recalled, “Greg wasn’t fazed by anything. He revelled in the pressure and he always delivered a great social function for the benefit of the members.” He was awarded life membership in 1987
In 1988, Greg returned to local football as the director of umpiring at the then Eastern Districts Football League where he laid the foundations for one of the strongest umpire groups in Australia. Greg always visited the homes of prospective young umpires allaying the fears of their parents who immediately respected Greg for his willingness to go out of his way to sign up young people to umpire. Many of those young teenagers he signed up became life-long friends.
Moving to the Goulburn Murray region in 1992 Greg immediately immersed himself in both the local and sporting communities. He organised a local “back yard blitz” team from his shire workers to help the less fortunate around the Shepparton area.
He had a passion for developing young umpires and cricketers and his endeavours were recognised with life memberships of Goulburn Valley Umpires Association and Shepparton Youth United Cricket Club.
Always looking for recruits and ideas in just one of many initiatives he involved the local Dhurringile Prison to give inmates the opportunity to take on umpiring which gave them an opportunity for development and assisted with local umpiring numbers.
In addition to his roles in the GVUA as umpire, coach and recruitment officer, Greg remained a valuable contributor to the state competition as a VFL umpires observer a role in which he delivered positive encouragement as well as coaching assessment. Typically on match day his interest was not always solely focussed on the field umpires as he always wanted to take advice on boundary and goal umpiring back to the Valley and so often quizzed his match day VFL goal and boundary observers on aspects of their umpires’ performances.
The Victorian Football Umpires Association summed up the thoughts of its members when it wrote, “Greg was a wonderful VFL and country umpire who always had a smile on his face and was passionate about umpiring”.
Greg Sidebottom’s legacy will be the generations of umpires that he bought into the game, developed and imbued with a love of umpiring and the game.
Greg passed away on 2 April 2016 at Ardmona Recreation Reserve, an umpire to the end.