Jim Rowe

Umpiring has lost one of its most genial colleagues with the passing of Jim Rowe. Jim lost his battle with cancer on 11 January 2008.

Born James Charles Rowe on 6 July 1935 he grew up in Footscray and Maidstone with an enthusiasm for sport that saw him involved in both cricket and football at various levels.Jim played football with Footscray Under-17s and Brunswick Amateur Football Club in the VAFA. He was perhaps more successful at cricket. As a batsmen he won the averages at Footscray and Yarraville Social and Surrey Hills Cricket Clubs, and as a team member won premierships with Newport Cricket Club in the Victorian Junior Cricket Association. He was also a quality medium pace bowler.

In 1957 Jim began umpiring when he joined the VFL Reserve Grade as a field umpire. After four seasons he was promoted to the VFL Senior list where he would stay for seventeen years umpiring in every competition to which the VFL provided umpires. His most successful period came between 1969 and 1973 when he umpired multiple VCFL finals each year. It included his only Grand Final, the 1970 Kyabram and District between Nagambie and Undera at Murchison. In front of a record crowd Nagambie completed an undefeated season despite Undera sticking just within striking distance but never able to take the lead.

While the Grand Final was momentous Jim claimed his most memorable was Maryborough v. East Ballarat in July 1972. The match ended in the only draw of the season but controversy erupted when Maryborough claimed a behind scored in the second quarter was never registered.As field umpire Jim was required to attend the protest hearing the following Friday night in Ballarat. This was not normally a problem but after the hearing he had to catch ‘The Overland’ at 10.58 for Horsham and Kowree-Narracoorte League on the Saturday to umpire the Kingston-Padthaway match.

The ‘missed’ behind was the product of confusion. Jim’s evidence at the hearing was straight to the point.”The ball was kicked goalwards by Maryborough captain, Geoff Scott, and an East opponent attempting to stop the kick touched the ball. Another East player caught the ball about two feet in front of the goal line then crossed the scoring line. “I had called ‘touched, play on’ after the ball was touched up field. When I saw the player cross the scoring line I called out ‘touched, all clear’, then ran in and told the East player why the mark was disallowed. He threw the ball to another East player, I ran back upfield and the players took up their positions for the kick-in. The ball was kicked in and I allowed play to go on.”Unfortunately the goal umpire was not aware of what had happened and never registered the behind. It was only at half time, when queried by a Mary borough official, that he was aware something may have been awry.

Jim admitted he assumed the flag had been waved and it was his error that had caused the mix up – a generous declaration in the circumstances. Nevertheless the appeal was dismissed and Jim caught his train west.

It was not the only time Jim was called on to give evidence in unusual circumstances. During 1961, his first year on the senior list, he was the central figure in one of the VFL’s most controversial episodes – the Boyd-Nicholls incident.

Appointed as emergency umpire to the Carlton v. South Melbourne match in August, Jim witnessed Ken Boyd of South Melbourne strike John Nicholls of Carlton. No reports were laid on the day (emergency umpires did not have that power) but a special VFL investigation committee met in camera and decided that a full investigation hearing was warranted. Eleven witnesses were called from umpires to television broadcasters but only Jim Rowe had seen the incident. Based on this evidence Boyd was charged with assault and instructed that he must face the Investigation Committee for a full hearing. South Melbourne attempted to claim the hearing was outside the VFL’s own rules and went as far as the Supreme Court for an injunction. It was denied and the hearing went ahead.

Jim’s evidence was unequivocal and no doubt delivered in his trademark laconic style, “I was sitting with the umpires trainers just inside the fence on the half-forward flank. Earlier a South Melbourne player had been in the hands of the trainers. I saw the player leave the trainers hands and come up behind a Carlton player. He appeared to half turn him and then struck him in the face. The Carlton player went to the ground, the crowd roared and players converged from everywhere. I could see number 32 [Boyd] but at the time I could not see the player he struck.”

Under examination Jim stated he was 70-80 yards from the incident but had a clear view and was later able to identify Nicholls as the victim.

On the Wednesday following the incident Boyd had admitted in the press that not only had he struck Nicholls but that he was not ashamed as he was retaliating for an incident in an earlier ruck dual. Despite this public admission, Boyd pleaded not guilty and refused to provide a statement or answer questions. Based solely on Jim’s evidence Boyd was suspended for twelve weeks. A lot of pressure in your first year on the senior list.

Jim began the 1977 season but after only five matches retired from the field. Returning to the Reserve Grade in 1978 Jim took up the goals until 1981 when he retired from umpiring.

Although he did not hold elected office with the Association Jim was a worker for his colleagues. He was co-organiser of the early Under Pants Derbies and organiser of a number of presentation nights. Jim was awarded VFLUA Life Membership in 1971.

Following his umpiring Jim continued his sporting life with a long involvement with both golf and lawn bowls. He was member of the Eastern Golf Club for twenty-five years having picked up the enjoyment of the game as member of the VFLUA Golf Club with who he played regularly during the season and played in many of the club’s three-day tournaments at season’s end. As a bowler Jim played at Doncaster Bowling Club. In all of his chosen sports Jim was acknowledged as a guru when it came to the rules.

Jim Rowe was a respected friend and colleague to many. Frank Gagliardi commented “Jim never bagged anyone and was always ready to give advice when it was requested.” His integrity and honest caring will be missed by all whose lives it touched.

Vale Jim.

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