Len Gray came to umpiring eighteen months after his service as a sapper in the 21 Field Company RAE and was a member of the VFL Umpires Association from 1950-1960. Umpiring 193 matches in country and metropolitan regions he became a VFLUA Life member in the year he retired.
Born in Melbourne on 4 November 1920, Leonard Fyfe Gray grew up in Ascot Vale. From early on he was involved in football, cricket and basketball. He was most successful at cricket where he took hatricks and won averages for both bowling and batting in the Mercantile Cricket Association. He played football in Essendon District Football League Juniors and won an under-18 basketball premiership.
Len joined the VFL Second Eighteen umpires in 1948 and was promoted to the VFL Senior List in 1950. His first match was at Edenhope and he umpired seventeen matches that year. The following year he umpired two VCFL finals – at Casterton and Corowa. He would umpire finals each season for all but one of his years on the senior list. While he did not umpire at VFL Second Eighteen level he was appointed to two VCFL Reserves Grand Finals; 1954 Alberton Football League at Yarram and 1956 Tyrrell Football League at Sea Lake.
After retiring from the field Len returned to the Second Eighteens as a goal umpire for a number of years. It is during this time that he was involved in one of the more amusing on field incidents seen at the M.C.G.
As his brother Jack tells it, “During a Second Eighteen Final curtain-raiser final, Len was in the goals and Stan Fisher was the field umpire. A blue broke out near the centre of the ground and, as you did in those days, Len charged out to assist in regaining control. Unfortunately as he approached the stoush Fisher decided to bounce the ball and get play going. Of course, the ball and the play headed towards the goals that Len had just vacated. He was not a large man and the sight of his little legs pumping as he raced the ball was a sight to see. He arrived just in time to turn and signal the goal.”
After his goal umpiring days Len travelled overseas and throughout Australia. In the 1970s he went on a light plane trip across central Australia and two years ago he and his son Ian went on the Ghan from Darwin to Alice Springs.
Remaining a very keen sportsman all his life, after many years as a reasonable golfer Len took up bowls, won many trophies and was a character on the greens. His mates at Chelsea Bowls Club will always remember how he could never be rushed – especially finishing that last bowl – or beer. He umpired like that too. The game moved at his pace, not that of towering ruckmen who tried to niggle him.
Len passed away on 27 February 2008. Well liked by everyone who knew him and throughout his life he was always meeting someone from umpiring days. In 2007 Len stayed for a few months in Brisbane where he joined sons Ian and Neil at several Lions games. It is a fine testimony that they recall that they never heard him abuse an umpire in his life.