Photo: AFLUA Life Member, Gordon and his wife Wilma
(Composer of Umpires’ Theme Song)
Send a cheer over here, when the Men in White appear, they will umpire with Blood in their Boots. These are the opening lines to the Umpires Theme song composed by our next ‘Where are they now’ interviewee, in Gordon Ernest Edward Watt. Back in 1964, the veteran umpire sat down and composed what became known as the umpires’ theme song, titled ‘The Man In White”, to the tune “The Caisson’s go rolling along”. The song came about after a VFL Grand Final. The two teams had theme songs but not the umpires; the only reference to umpiring was a banner on the fence “The Man in White is Always Right”. After the game the banner went missing so Gordon, with the help of Don Jolley received some material from a mill in Wangaratta and a new banner was made. “THE MEN IN WHITE ARE ALWAYS RIGHT”
Gordon was born to Edward Harry “Sonny” & Clara Watt on the 17thOctober 1928 in the front room of their house in Arthur Street Footscray. The naming of Gordon created some discussion in the Watt family as he is named after his Father & Grandfathers. Whose name was to appear first caused some headaches, with Ernest winning. Two other siblings make up the Watt family with a brother Lionel (deceased) and a sister Hazel.
1933 saw ‘Gordy’ as he was known attend the Geelong Road State School, and then Footscray Technical College. He became an apprentice French polisher with Myer Emporium for 13 years. Gordon decided to look for clerical work and had stints with Olympic Cables, and Sunbeam for 10 years. He tried his hand at football but had trouble getting the ball. He had no such problems with cricket winning the premiership in Footscray Industrial Competition. Gordon considered himself a good ordinary player who also dabbled in social tennis.
In 1949 Gordon’s friend Norm Charles, an under 19 player at Footscray, asked if Gordon was interested in running the boundary for the Footscray under 19 team, which he accepted and completed 2 years in the role earning 2 shillings & sixpence a game, that was until the VFL stepped in and told Footscray they would be appointing the umpires for season 1951 onwards.
This was the catalyst for Gordon applying to the Reserve Grade as a boundary umpire where he completed 2 years before deciding to become a field umpire from 1952 to 1956, attending special lectures with field umpires advisor Bill Blackburn.
During this period Gordon earned extra pocket money working at the Barkly picture theatre as a ‘Lolly’ boy and you guessed it just happened to meet a lovely lady by the name of Wilma, who was helping her aunty at the theatre. The two became an item and in 1954 married. Coincidently his beloved Footscray just happened to win the premiership that year, so Gordon had a victory on two fronts. Today Gordon and his wife Wilma have four children, Trudy, Kerry, Richard & Cristy, 6 grandchildren in Shayne, Melanie, Lara & Mitchell to Kerry and Billy & Skye to Cristy. To top it off Lara has given Gordon & Wilma a great grandchild in Willow. In 2018 they have had 64 years of “wedded bliss”, well done guys. With the grandchildren on the scene, Gordon now has a new nickname as the children call him ‘Gordy Pops’. It should also be mentioned that whenever his children were sitting in the back of the car and travelling through a country town, the children were heard to say “here we go again bet Dad will say he umpired in this town” and you guessed it they were right.
In 1952 Gordon become a field umpire but the board forgot that he had moved on and kept appointing him to the boundary. After several rounds it got the better of Gordon and he wrote the board to remind them.
Word was filtering back that an umpire by the name of Watt was performing very well and soon after he was promoted to ‘A’ grade matches. One such game up at The Basin, Gordon almost never made the match. Travelling to the match in his ‘1927 Essex’ he became bogged, had to leave the car and walk to the oval. After the match Gordon organized for the home team to help him get his wheels moving again. 1956 was the highlight of Gordon’s career on the Reserve Grade, when he was appointed emergency at the Reserve Grade grand final, where Bob Nunn was the field umpire. This appointment meant that Gordon would be promoted onto the Senior list of umpires as the No.1 umpire the following year.
Gordon trained at the Footscray ground before he was transferred over to the Yarraville training track under the eye of Jack Jones, fitness advisor. Dudley Ridley took over Gordon’s training and his first appointment was in the West Gippsland League, Garfield v. Lang Lang. Obviously the VFL had big plans for Gordon, as it was not long before he was appointed to the VFL Reserves Melbourne v South Melbourne in his first year.
In 1959 the Assistant Secretary position was advertised at his beloved Footscray Football Club, Gordon applied won the full time position and completed 5 years at the helm of the club.
Western Suburbs cronies in Alby Hamid, “Chatterbox McDonald,” John Higgins, Bill Gould, Charlie Black and George Mather used Gordon’s ’1927 Essex’ as their mode of transport. In fact I think this car was an early Uber, as Gordon would pick up the guys at the Footscray each week and travel to Richmond for the umpire’s lectures, in those days their only means of transport.
1960 saw Gordon elected onto the Social Committee of the VFLUA, a position he held for two years. In 1965 he served two years on the VFLUA Executive committee, was awarded Life Membership in 1967. In 1968 a Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Gordon for his services in helping organize the umpire’s annual picnic.
1963 saw Gordon appointed to Circular Head Grand Final in Tasmania where they flew over, caught the bus along the West Coast to Stanley and then caught the Princess of Tasmania for the return journey.
One of Gordon’s most embarrassing moments came in the South West League at Wagga NSW. A final where two umpires were appointed, one for the seconds and the other the main game. Des McCormick was officiating in the seconds and performing very well and I mean performing, as an around the neck signal would almost choke himself. The funny part of this story is they got the umpires names wrong in the record and whilst Gordon was watching the seconds match, the huge crowd were giving umpire Watt many cat calls and abuse for his antics in giving decisions. One lady said, “you reckon he’s good, wait till to you see McCormick”
At any function on the senior list you could bet that if the umpires theme song was to be sung, Gordon would be there with his trombone supplying the music. Gordon purchased the trombone for six pounds, when he thought it was worn out, he was offered $10, which he accepted. But you guessed it, his wife Wilma went out and purchased another trombone for Gordon to perform with at the next umpire’s functions.
His Favourite umpire was Jack Irving. Gordon says Jack had a good rapport with players, as well as his decision making.
After 11 years on the VFL senior list Gordon’s last appointment was the West Gippsland 2ndSemi at Cora Lynn. Over those 11 years Gordon umpired grand finals in South Gippsland x 2, West Gippsland, Ovens & Murray Reserves, Tatiara, Circular Head in Tasmania, Barellan, Murray, Hume and Gippsland Leagues. He then retired, before joining the Footscray & District Umpires to help out with the kids. Umpiring Under 9, 12’s and 13’s. After a couple of years he found that the Under 13’s were too fast and decided to retire at the age of 55 years. Luck happened Gordon noticed an advertisement in the daily newspapers for inter-change stewards with the VFL. He applied for the position and got the job. He was one of the original inter-change stewards. In the latter years of the job it became almost impossible to perform his duty as coaches from both teams were changing 3 & 4 players at the same time. A request to the League for two inter-change stewards was denied, so Gordon decided to retire after 30 years as a steward in 2007 at the ripe old age of 80 years.
Whilst performing his duties as an Inter-change steward, Gordon also was a member of the Footscray & District Umpires Appointment Board until 1990, when the Footscray & District Football League asked Gordon to become an Executive Member, which he held until 1994, when he was awarded Life Membership.
Asked what he thought of football today his reply was, “It’s totally different to what I witnessed at my first game back in 1938. “Not enough protection is given to the ball player”.
Over the years Gordon and Wilma with the Footscray social group have travelled to Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, West Coast of America, two man tents to central Australia, Cape York, cruises to Vanuatu on the Fair Sky. He still considers the 47 years the family spent camping at West Rosebud his finest moments.
He loves doing maintenance around the house considers himself a Jack-of-All-Trades and enjoys a good laugh.
Now at the ripe old age of 89 years, Gordon has had open heart surgery twice, one new hip, two knee replacements, has a pace maker installed and was recently hospitalised with pneumonia but is recovering, having been told to exercise to get breathing. Next time you have a headache, just think of Gordon, I’m sure the headache will disappear quickly.
Well done Gordon, we wish you the best of health in the coming years.
23 VFL Reserve grade games
10 VCFL grand finals
24 VCFL finals
164 VCFL games
5 VCFL Inter-league games
226 Games in total
Article written by AFLUA life member Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows