George Mather’s involvement with umpiring has spanned 62 years – as a boundary umpire with the VFL Reserve Grade, Umpires’ Trainer and Fitness Coach for the VFL Goal Umpires’ squad.
George Mather, born to Victor & Muriel Mather at Sunshine on the 30th December 1928 is one of 11 siblings. – four boys and seven girls. Today George is a spritely 88-year-old. George attended Sunshine Primary School for one year before transferring to Geelong Road State School in 1934, where he graduated finishing year eight in 1942. As the war was in progress to obtain work you had to apply to a government body named Manpower and they placed applicants where they thought appropriate. George was sent to the Australian Estate Wool Company where he skinned rabbits, foxes and possum for many years. He was then sent to Kinnear’s Rope works for 4 years. After the war George applied for a position with an oil company as an oil blender for motor vehicles in 1952. George retired in 1993 after 41.5 years with the same company.
1945 saw George join the West Footscray Football Club where he played in the under 18’s for one year, before being promoted to the senior side playing in the notorious Sunday Football League where men were men and the rest were squibs. It was a tough competition. After a few years George noticed an advertisement in the daily newspapers for umpires with the Victorian Football League Reserve Grade. He applied and in 1950 was accepted as a boundary umpire. Training between Albert Park and Royal Park under the watchful eye of Norm Price, the following year George took up the challenge and took charge of training for the reserve grade, a position he held for many years.
It was during the early 50’s that George, who was a greyhound owner, had one of his dogs set for a big race but the dog became injured, so his mates invited George to attend the local dance in Footscray, and this is where George met his wife to be Jessie. They married on the 9th February 1952 at Footscray. They have four children, 3 girls Debra, Mandy, Sandra and a boy named Mark. They have 7 grandchildren, 4 boys and 3 girls.
George was becoming very enthusiastic about his umpiring in the Suburban Metro Leagues as well as the VFL Under 19’s and Reserve Grade games as a boundary umpire, and occasionally when the VFLRG were short George would help out as a field umpire. When asked why he took up boundary umpiring, George replied, “Because l don’t want to be a goal umpire!”
In 1962 he decided to stand for the Reserve Grade Umpires’ Executive Committee and over the next seven years, he held many positions. In 1965 he was elected Vice-President and that same year was awarded Life Membership of the Reserve Grade Umpires’ Association. In 1966 George moved into the President’s chair where he thoroughly enjoyed the role. He tells me the good old Smoke Nights that were held when over 400 umpires would attend the evening were something special. In 1968-69 he held the position of Social Secretary where after the 1969 season he decided to retire. Asked why he never accepted a promotion onto the senior list he stated that there were always better umpires in front of him. As far as field umpires go George saw the development of Barbour, Nash, Jamieson Jack McMurray and many more.
When he retired at the age of 40, George took up a position as umpire’s trainer with Ian Coates. In those day’s all field umpires would have their own trainer. George was nominated by many field umpires especially with interstate games which meant he travelled into every state in Australia. This also applied to the grand finals as he officiated at too many to remember being requested by the officiating umpire. It wasn’t until later years that the VFL appointed a squad of trainers and nominated what grounds that they would work at, for all umpires.
In 1972 a position became available in the VFL for a goal umpire’s fitness coach. George was nicknamed ‘The Sadist’ by the goal umpires for his strenuous training sessions leaving many exhausted cries by numerous goal umpires after several long runs and flat out sprints.
George told umpires coach Alan Nash, “Leave it to me I’ll get the bludgers fit for you Alan”. No need to say anymore. From 1972 until 1991 George had the poor old goalies and “old” being the operative word for some, running their butts off, not up the garden path but up the Fitzroy Gardens path, regardless of the weather. There was no heat policy in affect back then and when the Nylex clock showed 40 degrees plus, George thought this meant the guys had to train harder.
During the summer months George played cricket with the Buckingham IOOF in the Footscray competition as an opening “fiery” fast bowler, but after 28 years he decided to retire and concentrate on renovating his house during the summer months.
George and Jessie were willing participants in the umpire’s trip to New Zealand in 1977. In fact, they were the life of the group. One such time was when one of our two buses caught on fire, a quick evacuation by the group saw us waiting for a replacement bus, on the side of a major highway. So, what do you do while waiting for the bus? You guessed it, block off part of the highway and play two-up, with George as the ring leader!
VFLUA life membership was awarded to George in 1979 which he considers to be his biggest thrill, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986. Up until now, I was under the impression that George worked for a confectionary company as he would always bring lollies to training, but he assures me that the lollies all came out of his own pocket. The boys always appreciated George.
In 1994 we saw the end of George’s run as a VFL trainer, thinking that he required a break from umpiring where he had been involved for over 44 years, but this was not to be the case. After a short break in 2001, the AFL invited George back for another stint as a trainer which he carried out until the end of the 2012 season when George pulled up stumps on his illustrious career. He stated that he enjoyed his work as a trainer more than he did going to his secular employment. Sixty-two years is not a bad effort but George informs me that he gets stressed out by not being involved as he loved every minute of his umpires’ trainer duties, and the comradery associated within the umpiring fraternity.
In January 1981 George was a participant in the umpires’ ultra-marathon run around Victoria, where the final leg was up the Main straight of Moonee Valley on Australia Cup Day. Not only did George have his turn at running a leg, he was there to deal with any injuries that occurred.
As the AFL has no record of the number of games George was appointed too, he tells me that he kept the records himself and only recently threw them out. He estimated that he officiated in 400 games including several field umpiring appointments, and one semi-final appointment for the senior list when they were short one year. A quick search of The Age archives established that George officiated in the 1957 Reserves Preliminary Final between Nth Melbourne and Essendon. The field umpire on that day was Frank Schwab, the boundaries were George Mather and Charlie Black. That same year George and Charlie officiated at an inter-league game with field umpire Frank Schwab. In 1959 the reserve preliminary final between Fitzroy and Collingwood was umpired by Harry Beitzel and the boundaries once again were Charlie Black and George Mather. George was nominated to go onto the senior list but as the senior list had too many umpires in their late thirties they decided to go on a program of youth and George missed that opportunity to join the VFL.
I asked George what he thought of the football today, his response was,” football today is not as good as the old days, too much tinkering with the rules.”
He spends time exercising by walking and often attends the movies with Jessie. The couple will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this year. George loves a game of golf in fact enjoys life to the fullest, and is a frequent visitor to the umpires get together at the Darebin RSL. But most of all George would not be without his Foxtel, where he spends most days having a punt on the greyhounds. If you want to know anything about greyhounds George is your man.
These days he gets super excited about his grandson Joshua Mather who is a boundary umpire with the AFL. George has watched Joshua perform from his very first game. This season Joshua was appointed to the finals panel for the first time officiating in the elimination final between Pt Adelaide and WCE in Adelaide. Congratulations Joshua you made your Grandpa very proud.
What a great career George Mather, and any accolades that have been bestowed to you have well been deserved. See you at Darebin.
Article written by: AFLUA Life Member, Graeme “Whizzer” Fellows
1928 – Born to Victor & Muriel Mather at Sunshine
1945 – Played football West Footscray Under 18’s
1950 – Joined Victorian Football League Reserve Grade Umpires List. (20 years)
1952 – Married wife Jessie 9.02.1952 at Footscray.
1962 – Joined Executive Committee VFLRGUA.
1965 – Vice President VFLRGUA.
Life Member V.F.L.R.G.U.A.
1966 – Elected President VFLRGUA.
1968 – Social Secretary VFLRGUA. (2 years)
1970 – Appointed Umpires trainer (25 years)
1972 – VFL goal umpire’s fitness coach (20 years)
1979 – Honorary Life Member AFLUA.
1986 – Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award AFLUA.
2001 – Re-joined AFL as umpire’s trainer (12 years)
2012 – officially retired again.