John Lucas holds a number of firsts in his 17 season VFL career as a goal umpire. He umpired in the first round of the newly formed Victorian Football League; he umpired the first Grand Final in 1898, and umpired the first match for premiership points outside Victoria (Sydney 1903). He also holds some significant seconds. He was the second umpire to reach 200 VFL matches and the second man elected to Life Membership of the then fledgling VFL Umpires’ Association.
Lucas had umpired in the Victorian Football Association before joining the VFL in its inaugural season, 1897. In round one he officiated at the Fitzroy versus Carlton match at the Brunswick Street Oval. That season he umpired in nine of the fourteen rounds and one of the play off finals that decided the premiership.
The VFL changed the finals system in 1898 and the first Grand Final was played. Fitzroy defeated Essendon in a match that provided little work for goal umpires Lucas and Frederick Franks with only a combined eight goals thirteen behinds being kicked for the day.
Season 1903 saw Fitzroy and Collingwood play at the SCG and Lucas joined Ivo Crapp and George Clapham as umpires for the fixture. Photographs show Lucas attired in his Sunday-best suit and bowler hat as Collingwood overran Fitzroy in front of a bumper crowd which included the Governor-General. Low scoring was a feature of early football and the 1905 Grand Final was no exception.
Lucas and Harry O’Bern umpired in what would be Ivo Crapp’s last VFL appointment and Fitzroy (4.6.30) defeated the Magpies (2.5.17) The 1906 Grand Final was played between Carlton and Fitzroy in front of a record crowd of 44 000 and Lucas was appointed after having also umpired the Second-Semi. The first Interstate Football Carnival was held in 1908 and Lucas was appointed to SA v. Tasmania & SA v. WA, but they were the only major matches for a number of seasons. Lucas’s last Grand Final was the 1910 Carlton-Collingwood match that was little more than a rolling brawl which involved all 36 players and in which four reported players received suspensions ranging from one to one and a half seasons.
Lucas became the second umpire to reach 200 VFL matches on 29 June 1912 and completed his career mid way through the 1913 season with a total of 209.
The VFLUA had been formed in 1909 and Lucas had been active from it’s inception as a committee member. In 1913 he was elected President and in 1914 was also elected a Life Member.