A quiet fellow and not one of the great mixers, Leo Wright nevertheless had a interesting career with the VFL and was interested enough in the AFLUA to take up Associate Membership in 2005 after a 52 year break.
Leo Clarence Wright was born on 25 July 1924 in Shepparton. He served in the RAAF from age 19 until his discharge in May 1946.
That same year he was selected on the list of VFL Senior field umpires and his first match was in the Upper Goulburn League – Alexandra versus Mansfield in July. In following seasons his career followed the usual path with country finals, Second Eighteen promotion and VFL emergency appointments until Queen’s Birthday 1952.
On that day Leo became the 217th VFL field umpire when he took charge of the Essendon-Richmond match at Windy Hill. In the following weeks he umpired some of the great stars of the era, Coleman, Whitten and Barassi amongst them.
The round ten Melbourne-Richmond clash saw Leo incur the wrath of the Demons, and in particular their Secretary, Jim Cardwell, who railed against the free-kick count. Despite a forty point victory, the frees were 42-16 against Melbourne. As usual, the post match bluster of complaints to the VFL Board amounted to nothing. There was more media coverage from the same match concerning Leo’s report of Melbourne star Geoff Collins for disputing his decisions in the second and fourth quarters. Collins, a trainee Air Force pilot, was unable to attend the scheduled tribunal hearing because of an RAAF test, but when the charge was eventually heard he admitted guilt and apologised for constantly arguing and demanding explanations of decisions. He received a severe reprimand.
The following week Leo was appointed to North Melbourne versus South Melbourne. It would be his fourth and final VFL senior match. The first half appeared to go well but at half time Leo collapsed and the second half of the match was umpired by Cliff Dunn. No explanation for the collapse was ever publicised but it was six weeks before he was back umpiring. Leo completed the season with three Reserve Grade matches.
The start of 1953 saw Leo elected to the position of Assistant Secretary of the VFLUA but it also saw a muscle strain injury that, by June, forced him to retire from both his Association role and umpiring.
Leo maintained somewhat of a link with umpiring soon after his retirement when he took on a role with radio station 3KZ’s Thursday night VFL teams program. He shared the microphone with presenter Phil Gibbs and Jack Dyer. His job was to field questions about the laws of football from callers and to provide explanations of the previous weekends umpiring incidents.
Away from football Leo was a member of the Essendon RSL, the Western Suburbs TPI Social Club and was also an active committee member and Secretary of the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Association. His service with the TPIA was acknowledged with Life Membership in 2004.
After 52 years away from the VFLUA Leo took up Associate membership and attended both last year’s Annual Dinner and Appreciation Nights.
Leo passed away peacefully at St. Vincent’s Hospital on 12 March 2006.