Dud Ridley was a long time umpire and dedicated Association contributor, he will be remembered for his support of up and coming umpires, his vast country league experience and his friendliness to all. Perhaps all this is best summed up by Ray Sleeth who noted, “All I can say is that he was a ‘bloody good’ bloke – period.
Dudley Lennard Ridley was born the eldest of three sons to Thomas and Laura Ridley on 29 November 1915 at Jeparit in Victoria’s Wimmera region. His brother Ian would have a terrific playing career at Melbourne but it was in umpiring that Dudley would be involved in football.
After a stint in the AIF during 1940-41, he was discharged and returned to civilian life having recently married Katherina Haines. They would share their life together until her death in 1995.
Dudley joined the VFLUA in 1949 and so began seventeen years as a VFL field umpire. In this time he umpired in every major country competition to which the League sent umpires over an area that included all of Victoria, Tasmania and southern New South Wales. He umpired numerous finals and Grand Finals but was not able to break into the ‘big six’ who umpired VFL Senior football. It was perhaps the legacy of a late start in umpiring as few who began at age 33 made the step to the VFL. Nevertheless his extensive career was recognised with the presentation of a VCFL Special Medallion upon his retirement.
According to VFLUA stalwart and Ridley’s contemporary Jack Gray, such was Dudley’s renown that he acquired the nickname ‘King of the Bush’ “One day”, he recalls, “I was coming off the ground after a country seconds final and was pleasantly surprised to receive a round of applause from the crowd as I approached the gate. I was only when I was passing through the pickets that I realized they were clapping Dud as he took the field for the seniors!”
Through this time Dudley was always willing to share his vast experience with younger umpires. Life Member Ian Wallace recalls one of many instances. “I remember Dudley as strong and solid physically and a fine man. My most treasured recollection of him was after a 1964 trip to the Stawell ground in the Wimmera League when I umpired the Stawell v Rapunyup.
“As a young umpire I was sent to Stawell with VFL Coach Harry Clayton’s words “Those of you going to the Wimmera this week all had a responsibility to the game to clean up the Wimmera League as it was getting out of hand. Well, fight they did and I reported all of them for it.
“On the late night train trip back to Melbourne Dudley found the time to break away from the senior umpires traditional drinking cabin and called me into a cabin on our own to discuss what had happened, what I had done and what I could have done better. He forecast the exact outcome of the proceedings to follow (press reports and six weeks of hearings and non-hearings best described as a circus) and gave me great advice that I was able to use throughout the remainder of my umpiring career and coaching years in Sydney and Queensland.
“I always appreciated his taking the time to give me good advice and support at a difficult time.”
These qualities made Dudley an ideal candidate for a position as umpires advisor and in 1970 Dudley was appointed advisor to the East Suburban Churches Football League. In that year he made a great impression upon first year umpire Peter Alexander.
“I was playing with Emmanuel and running the boundary Dudley encouraged me to take up the whistle and he was terrific. To play games under him, as I did, and then learn from him, was a great education in football. In those days he was in his 50’s, yet he was always one of the first on the track and the last to leave, running all the time. He made us very fit and taught us the rules and how to interpret them. I will never forget his approach to people and the game and what he taught us then has stood me is stead through my life, to be Fair, Firm and Consistent. I know he did the same for all he came in contact with.”
“Dudley was always immaculate in his dress, disposition and manner. Even when he was giving a dressing down on what he observed he gave it in such a way that one could never be offended, it was a learning time.”
In his fifth year on the list Dudley become involved with the VFL Umpires Association. Taking a position on the Executive Committee in 1953, he served for two more years in that role. He was elected Junior Vice-President in 1956 and, under the constitution at the time, automatically became President two years later after having served as Senior Vice-President in the interim. He received Life Membership of the VFLUA 1959 having served ten years but was clearly a candidate for Honorary Life Membership given his committed service. He retired from the VFL at the conclusion of the 1965 season but continued his connection with the VFLUA by regularly providing the presentation President’s gavel well into the 1970s.
Also in the 1960s he was a trainer at the now long defunct Yarraville training track. Bill Deller recalls, “He would cut quite a figure arriving on his push bike with his Gladstone bag across the handlebars.”
Dudley Ridley passed away on 10 April 2005 at Bindaree Retirement Centre, Mansfield aged 89. One of nature’s and umpiring’s gentlemen.