Owen Thomas, who passed away on 12 December 2012, aged 97, gave outstanding service to Victorian umpiring as a field umpire, goal umpire, Executive Committee member and umpiring administrator in a career that spanned 35 years.
Born on 11 October 1915, Owen Edward Thomas grew up in Williamstown and Footscray. A keen athlete he played football in Footscray District Football League (FDFL) as well as cricket and table tennis.
At 21 years of age he began as a field umpire with the FDFL and from 1941-44 he was with the VFL Second Eighteens.
If an umpire ever had a blazing start to a VFL career it was Owen Thomas.
Promoted to the VFL Senior List in the final year of World War Two he was fortunate that the VFL was still only providing umpires for the senior, Second Eighteens, Federal and Sub-District competitions. As a result he was into the Second Eighteens immediately and following a series of good displays was appointed to his first VFL match in round 16.
The match was Geelong versus Melbourne at Kardinia Park and despite the home team never looking like winning a drunken spectator took out his disappointment on Owen, striking him on the jaw as he left the field at the end of the match. In a subsequent court proceedings Howard Fraser was convicted of assault and fined £2 (with costs). He later apologised having told the court he had not taken a drink for five months but that day had eight or nine whiskies. He did not know what had happened until a friend told him later.
Having gained heritage number 197 Owen umpired Fitzroy v. St.Kilda the following week and so completed his senior field career.
In the following years he umpired two more Second Eighteen matches but as more country leagues came back after the war Owen umpired in these and a single Tasmanian appointment in 1954.
His most successful year proved to be 1953 with five country finals in his last six matches that year.
Beginning in 1950 with his election to the Executive Committee Owen was in office with the VFLUA until 1954. Initially on the Executive Committee he was then elected senior vice-president in 1952 and succeeded to the presidency in 1953.
At the beginning of the 1955 season Owen decided to take on goal umpiring and transferred directly from the field umpires list, making him one of the last to do so. He was appointed to his first VFL match as a goal umpire in round two at Windy Hill, earning a second heritage number, 129.
Between 1955 and round five, 1956 Owen umpired 19 VFL matches, retiring mid-season. Geelong again proved a tricky venue when a spectator flicked a cigarette stub in Owen’s direction. Unnoticed, it settled in his hat setting it alight much to the amusement of those in the immediate area.
After 11 seasons with the VFL his record stood at: 21 VFL (19 goal), 16 Second Eighteens, 139 VCFL (2 goal), 1 Tasmanian and 5 Metropolitan matches.
Six years after hanging up the flags Owen re-joined the VFL when he was asked to be a member of the Umpires Appointment Board. He took on the job with great enthusiasm and was elected chairman in 1967-68 and 1974. The board was primarily responsible for appointing and assessing the VFL umpires for all the competitions the league serviced. A massive job given there were seven boardmen for 180 umpires. It was under Owen’s chairmanship (1967) that the VFL introduced country observers for the first time.
Also as Chairman Owen took unwarranted criticism of his men seriously. In an unprecedented dedication of column space to umpiring issues the Football Record of 29 July 1967 ran a strident three-page defence of umpires penned by Owen.
Owen left the Board in 1975 but for much of the remainder of his life attended social functions and kept in touch with former colleagues. He had attained life membership in 1954 and also a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1956.