It was widely reported that when Jim Bates died on October 6 2009 he was the oldest living VFL player but none of these reports noted that he was also the oldest living VFL umpire.
Born Thomas James Edward Bates in Nathalia on 25 June 1910, Jimmy grew up there until recruited by Essendon. He spent three years with the Seconds before gaining his only VFL match in Round two 1933. Bates filled in on the wing replacing Tom Clarke who was ill with the flu. He recalled, “I played one game, had one kick and got paid three quid.”. Disgusted with his performance he retired immediately after the game to concentrate on professional running. He won the Keilor Gift in 1939.
Like many professional athletes over many years Jim was drawn to boundary umpiring. It is most likely that he umpired with the Second Eighteen competition before being promoted to the VFL but records of the time are incomplete.
In 1941 he was elevated to the VFL and became its 256th boundary umpire on 26 April when Footscray defeated Hawthorn at the Western Oval. This was also the scene of his final match in round 18 of that year. He never umpired senior football at Windy Hill but he did umpire Essendon twice – round 8 at Victoria Park and round 10 at the M.C.G.
At season’s end he had totaled 13 matches which would be the end of his VFL umpiring career.
In January 1942, Jim joined the AIF and, as a postal employee by trade, was posted to various postal units in St.Kilda, Port Moresby and Queensland. He contacted malaria while in the tropics and was eventually discharge in June 1944 after 830 days active service (507 overseas).
When Jim passed away, aged 99, he was the oldest living VFL umpire.*
*Based on available information boundary umpire George Smith, born 30 December 1913, is now the oldest living VFL umpire.