LANE, PHIL (FITZ.) 1 game, 0 goals

The sixth edition of The encyclopedia of AFL footballers is perfunctory in its summing up of the VFL career of Phil Lane. While accurate, it is does not detail the greater contribution he made to the competition as a VFL umpire, nor the other facets of his long and worthy life.

Philip Henry Lane was born in West Melbourne on 12 March 1911. He played football for a number of local teams until he was asked to join Fitzroy Football Club in the early 1930s. He was on Fitzroy’s list for three years and played one senior game in 1932.

During the Second World War Phil joined the Royal Australian Air Force, serving from October 1944 until November the following year. This stint in the forces only partially interrupted a VFL umpiring career that had begun in 1943.

Records for this era are slim, but it is most likely that Lane was VFL Reserve Grade umpire prior to his promotion to the senior list of field umpires. Due to the war, this list was perhaps the most exclusive in VFL history given that no umpires supplied to country competitions and only the VFL Second Eighteens, Sub-District League and War Service competitions received VFL umpires.

Phil’s first matches were in the Second Eighteens at some unfamiliar venues. South Melbourne played at the Albert Ground, Richmond at Old Scotch and Carlton intermittently at McCallister Oval.

He must have impressed in his first season because in round 14 he earned Field Heritage Number 192 when he stepped onto Princes Park to umpire South Melbourne and Collingwood on 14 August 1943. The match was a pacy, rugged affair with South Melbourne triumphant. That game was his only senior appointment for the year but he continued in the seconds and his appointment to the Sub-District League Second-Semi and Preliminary Finals capped off a successful debut season.

The following year he started in the seniors and umpired the first eleven rounds before dropping back to the seconds and again finishing the year with Second-Semi and Preliminary Finals, this time in the Reserves competition.

His second game that year was perhaps the most interesting, not for what transpired on the field, but for the lead up to match. The lifting of war-time travel restrictions saw Geelong re-enter the VFL competition in 1944 and South Melbourne were their first visitors. However, the late arrival of South Melbourne’s train delayed the start of the match for more than an hour. The train did not arrive until 2.25pm and Lane’s opening bounce finally hit the deck at 3.32 pm. Phil was at the ground on time, perhaps being aware of potential problems because he had umpired two practice matches at Kardinia Park already that year. According to the Geelong Advertiser, “in the last few minutes of the match it was difficult to distinguish the players in the semi-darkness”.

Being stationed at Point Cook meant that Lane was still close to the VFL competition in 1945 and he continued umpiring that year, again starting in the seniors but later fluctuating between the VFL and Second Eighteen Competitions before dropping out in mid-July, possibly due to RAAF commitments. He did not grace the seniors for about twelve months, but after leaving the forces he rejoined the VFL and by the end of 1946 he had accumulated 26 VFL senior matches. His last senior game featured Fitzroy, who whipped the Bloods at the Lake Oval.

Despite not umpiring senior football, Phil, now 36, worked hard for the next two years and success was found in perhaps his most prestigious appointment – the 1947 VFL Second Eighteens Grand Final. Phil retired from the VFL list at the conclusion of the 1948 season.

Maintaining his connection with both Fitzroy and its football club, Phil was a regular at Past Players functions and was also a Life Member of the Fitzroy Bowling and Sports Club. In recent years he was able to clearly recall events from his time in umpiring and football, no mean effort considering it was almost sixty ago.

Phil Lane, VFL player, VFL umpire, passed away on 8 August 2006, aged 96. His survived by a large and loving family.