VFL Grand Final umpire and AFL Umpires Association Life Member Ron Brophy passed away in Yarrawonga on 2 January 2002 after a battle with cancer.
In a senior VFL career that spanned six seasons Brophy umpired 81 VFL matches including five finals and the epic 1964 VFL Grand Final between Melbourne and Collingwood.
Ronald Joseph Brophy was born in Fitzroy on 18 October 1925 and played football in the South Melbourne district until 1950 when an injury ended his playing career. At the suggestion of a mate he took up umpiring to subsidise his weekly salary by officiating in the Sunday Football League that was operating at the time. After some years Brophy joined the VFL umpires and was umpiring all around the state.
Finally promoted regularly to the VFL Reserve Grade, Brophy began to impress the senior selection panel and he made his VFL senior debut in Round 14, 1960 at the Western Oval. Ted Whitten was at the helm of Footscray and no doubt gave Ron some advice as the match progressed. It didn’t do much good – the Bulldogs were thrashed.
Two more matches in 1960 and Ron was back to the Reserves. It was round six the next season before he was given another chance. He made the most of it by umpiring every remaining round that year and from that point on was a regular member of the ‘big six’.
Ron umpired his first two finals matches in 1963 – the First-Semi and Preliminary Finals but 1964 was to be his best in VFL football.
He umpired all but two rounds in the home and away series and after sharing the finals with great mate, Jeff Crouch, it was clear one of them would umpire the Grand Final. Brophy got the nod from Harry Clayton and went on to umpire one of the great Grand Finals ever with Melbourne beating arch rival Collingwood by hanging grimly onto a four-point lead reached courtesy of an improbable goal by back-pocket Neil Compton.
His last VFL match was one of the most controversial in VFL history – the 1965 Preliminary Final between Essendon and Collingwood.
Ten minutes into the first quarter, with the ball 40 metres up field, something happened on the Essendon half-forward flank and even with 95 000 people in attendance, many of them police, and a multitude of cameras, to this day no one knows how John Somerville came to be lying concussed and unconscious at the feet of Magpie Duncan Wright.
Despite his season’s record and keeping a lid on the potential powder keg that followed the Somerville ‘faint’ Brophy was overlooked for the 1965 Grand Final and, after a clash with Harry Clayton over the matter, retired and did not umpire again.
Of that retirement, journalist Brian Hansen wrote, “Brophy left the game at the pinnacle of his career and no umpire left the game with more accolades from players and coaches.
Ron Brophy was made a Life Member of the then VFLUA in 1964 having served on the Social Committee in 1960 to 1962 seasons and later on the Executive Committee. He received a Special Award for services by a Life Member to the VFLUA and was a regular and enthusiastic attendee at the AFL Grand Final Umpires’ Dinner. A kind man with a strong personality, ‘Broph’ was not afraid to give you his opinion on anything. He will be missed by all who knew him.