At the ripe young age of 93, our next “Where are they now?” has lived a very FULL life. 

Always in a hurry with never a dull moment, Kenneth William Woolfe has slowed down a little with laziness creeping in which allows him time to listen to his vast music collection and to spend more time reading, especially about British Prime Ministers.

Born on the 23rd of April 1928 in Kew to Fred and Elsie Woolfe, Ken was the youngest of 3 siblings, a sister and brother where the family spent their early years in Surrey Hills, Mont Albert and Burwood. In 1933, Ken attended Surrey Hills State School before attending Mont Albert Central from 1940.  Ken’s teenage years were taken up by playing sport. He represented the Balwyn Football/Cricket club from 1945 until 1950 at both sports, winning a premiership in his first year at football in the East Suburban P.F.A. He also tried his hand at playing tennis, squash and the occasional game of golf. He loved his cricket where from 1945 he played with I.L.R., 1949 until 1956 with the Canterbury C.C. and then decided to try out in Sub District from 1957 to 1958 with the Ivanhoe C.C. He finished his Cricket career with Boroondara in the East Suburban in 1962.

In 1947, Ken attended Melbourne High School but due to hardship had to leave school and go out and work, after only two years at MHS.  Ken joined a building society for a couple of years before he began working for his family’s business (book binders).  In 1951, Ken was working through some problems at work when he decided to meet a client to sort out some issues. The customer called in the foreman who just happened to be the Chairman of the VFA Umpiring panel. Before they got down to business the foreman asked Ken if he played football to which Ken replied yes so the foreman then changed tack and told him he should take on Umpiring.

This sparked an interest so when an advertisement appeared in the Sporting Globe for Umpires on the V.F.L. Reserve Grade, Ken applied and joined the VFL Reserve Grade list of Umpires in 1951. Ken trained with a pro running coach at Camberwell and was extremely fit and was rewarded for his efforts with 8 appointments in the Under 19s in his third year.  His first game was Melbourne v Geelong, and he recalls that it was a thrill of a lifetime. There was a strong sense of expectation when stripping to go on and the tingle when my feet hit the carpet of grass, surely no man could ask for more in a lifetime.”

When appointed in the Reserve Grade, umpires were required to purchase their own bus ticket. On a trip to Yarck, Ken presented at Pioneer Tours for the 8.00am bus. He arrived 15 minutes early but there were no seats left. The booking clerk and the driver were immovable, passengers were not allowed to stand. Finally, after much argument and pleading of his case, a lady on the bus offered her the seat occupied by her 8-year-old daughter as long as the daughter sat on Ken’s lap. He travelled for 80 miles in this manner.  Ken’s performances were exceptional at all levels so much so that he was rewarded with the Under 19 Grand Final in 1953 which was only his third year on the list. He umpired three Grand Finals in 3 weeks on the Reserve Grade, one just happened to be the Federal League where he was sent to sort out the boys who would rather have a fight than a feed.

In 1954 Ken was promoted onto the Senior List for season 1954 with training at Royal Park. His first game was in the Wonthaggi F.L, at Kilcunda where Dalyston 9.9 defeated Kilcunda 7.6. After only 30 VCFL appointments Ken Umpired his first Reserve Grade match in 1955 (23 July). Geelong 7.13 lost to Richmond 17.13. It rained cats and dogs. “I was very edgy in the first half but gathered confidence in the second half.”

In 1954 Ken met a lovely lady by the name of Nancy Andrew of North Carlton. Her parents ran the local newsagency. On 15th January 1955, they became engaged.  Nineteen months later the couple married at the Toorak Presbyterian Church on the 19th October 1956. Today they have 2 children, son Andrew (Lawyer), daughter Melissa (School Teacher) and 2 grandchildren Lucas and Lillian.

Ken started the 1956 season in great form in the VFL seconds. After only 6 matches his performance were so good, he was appointed to his first VFL Senior game at Punt Road – Richmond 10.15 lost to South Melbourne 12.6. He claims this was the highlight of his umpiring career. He finished the season umpiring the remaining 11 games at the top level, was rewarded with a night Semi-final at the Lakeside Oval where South Melbourne 9.13 defeated North Melbourne 8.14.

During the 1956 season, a game at Princes Park saw bottles, peelings, apple cores and paper hurled by spectators at field umpire Woolfe, after a tense drawn game between Carlton and St. Kilda. As the umpire was leaving the ground, a soft drink bottle rocketed from the impassioned crowd milling about the umpires’ race. Ken fortunately ducked as the bottle flashed past inches from his forehead. Police arrested a man and charged him with assault.

What was so funny about the incident, if it wasn’t so serious, Ken was engaged to Nancy who just happened to be looking after the news agency that day. So, after the game Ken went around to see Nancy and as usual the mob from the game were waiting outside the newsagency for the Sporting Globe to turn up. They quickly realised who Ken was and the verbal abuse started over again.

In 1957, Ken was appointed to the Essendon v Hawthorn game which happened to be Essendon’s champion rover John Birt’s first VFL game.  They became friends and have been mates ever since.  Birt played 194 games with Essendon, coaching the club in 1971.

A regular at umpiring senior football for the next two years, Ken for some unknown reason completely missed being appointed to a senior or seconds match in 1960 and was sent to the bush for the whole season. This did not help his family situation as his wife Nancy was pregnant.  One such appointment was the Murray F.L. v St Kilda at Tocumwal, where Ken had to attend Harrison House to catch the bus which was full of St Kilda players. The Murray League were as keen as mustard and with the support of a very large crowd, Ken stated it was a high scoring game easy to officiate. After the game Ken had a conversation with Lindsay Fox and it turned out that both had attended Melbourne High.  Disappointed at missing out on a city appointment and for family reasons, Ken resigned at the end of the season and applied to the Victorian Football Association for season 1961. He had immediate success umpiring the VFA Grand Final in his first year at the Junction Oval where Yarraville 22.7 d. Williamstown 11.10.

Due to business commitments, Ken retired at the end of 1962 season. Such was the success of the business, Ken received an offer to purchase the company.  They accepted and the offer was so good, they are still living off the profits some 31 years later.

Ken’s career spanning over 12 years resulted in; VFL – 34 games; VFL night games – 4; VFL 2nds – 19;  VCFL – 74;  VCFL – Grand Finals 10; (Mininera F.L.; Northern Tasmania; Bendigo F.L.; Mornington F.L(2).; North West Union Tas.; Wimmera F.L.; Hampden F.L. (2) and the Polworth F.L.);  VCFL finals – 8;  VCFL Inter-league – 7;   VFA – 35;  VFA Grand Final – 1.  Ken became a life member of the AFLUA in 2007.

In 1965 Ken was asked would he be prepared to observe country umpires and he jumped at the opportunity until the end of 1966.  A phone call from Jack Hamilton over the summer and Ken thought he was in big trouble, where Jack told Ken Mr Eric McCutcheon would like to see him at Harrison House. Mr McCutcheon told Ken that there was a vacancy on the Umpires’ Appointment Board and that he had been recommended for the position and would he be interested. This was a plum job and Ken had no hesitation in accepting. From 1967 until 1981 Ken carried out this duty holding the position as Chairman in 1973.

Around this time Ken was requested to do a radio program on Warringal F.M Station where he would play non-stop jazz until midnight. He held this position for 10 years when the Radio Station requested that Ken broadcast football on weekends.  They would pick the match of the day in ‘A’ grade amateur football.

During the 70’s Ken was responsible for forming and leading the Australian Cricket Society through those pioneering days when the ACS was very young and emerging. He led the Society on that first big tour of England in 1972 a tour that Ken has completed 10 times. Whilst in London Ken would frequent second-hand book shops to add to his collection which is equal to anyone’s in Australia. Ken boasts about keeping wicket to “Typhoon” Tyson and befriended a down and out Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. Ken is a Life Member of the Society. One of his prized collector’s item, he decided to donate to a charity a brochure in honour of Peter Bedford where on the back the signatures of famous names in;-Bob Skilton, Peter Bedford, Fred Goldsmith, Ian Stewart, Stan Judkins, Dick Reynolds, Bert Deacon, Ron Clegg, Jack Dyer, Chicken Smallhorn and Lou Richards.   

In 1985 Ken believed he had a great life living on the Boulevard in East Ivanhoe, drove a Mercedes as well as running the family business. He was approached to join Rotary but was not interested, that was until he met Harold Richards, a civil engineer who built the Bolte bridge. Harold talked Ken into joining and his first project was to be in touch with local primary schools to help out. It was then he realised he had lived a sheltered life, saw the needs of kids at many schools.  Elected as President in 1990/91 this was the year that determined allowing Women to be members of Rotary. Ken believes it is a privilege to be a Rotarian and to be a member of the Carlton Club where he is fortunate to be one of the 3 remaining charter members.

Ken’s other interest these days is a charity call ‘The Bing Boys’ which raises money for under-privilege people. This year The Bing Boys have been operating for 100 years.  

Ken attends the football at the MCG when there is a day game but informs me never misses the football on TV. A dedicated Collingwood supporter he attended his first Grand Final in 1939 and has been to 55 of 56 Grand Finals since 1961.He is a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club and extremely proud that he holds membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club in London at Lord’s.

Ken now lives on Riverside Road where the property on the Boulevard runs down to the Yarra River and is full of Ken’s pride and joy Camellias. He spends many a day pottering around amongst the flowers.        

When I asked Ken if he was interested in having his profile on the website, this was his response and I quote –

As Benjaman Disrali famous quote. “Talk to a man about himself, he will listen for hours!! How could I resist your request?”

Good Luck Ken for the future, it was lovely to chat.

                                                                Graeme ‘Wizzer” Fellows

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