Country football lost a long standing servant and the AFL Umpires Association a stalwart Life Member with the passing of Harold Pratt. Umpiring across three decades in every major Victorian country competition and matches in South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales Harold covered thousands of kilometres by various means of transport and hundreds on foot around the various country grounds.
Harold John Pratt was born in Clifton Hill on 5 April 1931 and grew up there with his brothers Ray and Brian. Attending St. Thomas Christian Brothers College in Clifton Hill he played football for the school. While working at the T&G Harold was encouraged by an umpiring colleague to take up the whistle. He in turn convinced his brother Brian that it would be a good thing to do and together they joined the VFL Second Eighteens in 1952.
In 1955 he umpired his first senior list match. It was a one-off appointment as one of a handful of other Second 18s colleagues who came up to fill in on 30 April. Harold went to the West Gippsland League and coincidently that was the same competition he was sent to for his first appointment as a ‘real’ senior list umpire two years later in 1957.
In 1963 Harold umpired the first of his eight finals and in 1968 his single Grand Final – Wahgunyah versus Oaklands at Buraja in the Coreen Football League – and what a Grand Final it was. Played in front of the largest ever Coreen League crowd only one point separated the sides at the three-quarter time break. In a rollicking last quarter Wahgunyah took the lead and held on in a desperate finish to take the flag by nine points.
The Grand Final was not his final game for that year. Harold went on to finish the season with an OAM home and away fixture at Corowa and the Second-Semi Final of the Kowree-Naracoorte League at Kingston. With a total of 20 matches for the year it was the most prolific and successful of his career.
During the last years of the decade Harold also became formally involved with the umpires’ association. He was awarded Life Membership in 1967 and that year he was elected for the first of three terms to the Social Committee. For the first two of those years he served under Brian who Social Secretary in 1967 and 1968. These were busy times as the Association held seven functions in 1967, seven in 1968 and eight in 1969. The big dances numbered hundreds of attendees and took a lot of organising. Harold’s work on the Social Committee was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding services by a Life Member 1971.
At the end of the 1970 season Harold bought down the curtain on a fourteen year career with the VFL senior list which incorporated 224 VCFL, one Reserve Grade, nine Metropolitan League, one North West Union (Tas.) matches and the 1959 Hawthorn Lightning Premiership.
Following retirement Harold became involved in lawn bowls and had some success winning club triples three times and a Presidents Handicap. From 2001-2005 he was timekeeper for the Bundoora Football Club in the Diamond Valley Football League.
Harold Pratt passed away on 30 December 2011 after a long battle with renal disease.