Ever self-effacing Frank Gagliardi considered himself ‘only a nineteenth man’ when he was elevated to the VFL senior list of umpires in 1962 with such future senior luminaries as Don Jolley, Peter Sheales and Ray Sleeth. Yet of all the class of ’62 none would contribute more service to the VFLUA and to football around Victoria than Frank.
Born Francis Joseph Gagliardi in Parkville on 2 August 1932, Frank grew up with Don Jolley in Coburg where he began his football career with Coburg Thirds. Moving to the country, he played with Woorinen in the Mid-Murray League. After playing in the Swan Hill area he moved into Ovens and Murray territory and played with Bob Rose’s Wangaratta Magpies.
Returning to the city in 1960 Frank joined the VFL Reserve Grade list after attending an introductory night conducted by Bill Blackburn and umpired third-18 matches and metropolitan leagues matches in 1960 and 1961.
He was one of sixteen umpires promoted to the senior list in 1962 and there is no doubt that he was viewed with promise as evidenced by being appointed to two VCFL finals in his second year. In all but one of the remainder of his years at the VFL he was appointed to finals racking up an impressive total of 28 in fourteen seasons. These included four grand finals: Hume (1970), Kyabram and District (1971), Ovens and Murray Reserves (1973) and Southern Mallee (1974) Football Leagues. In 1971 he also umpired a Country Championships match between the West Gippsland and South-West Gippsland leagues at Pakenham.
While the early success did not progress to Reserve Grade or senior VFL football Frank noted, “Even though I failed to make the senior grades, on reflection I would not change one aspect of my career which to me was most fulfilling and enjoyable.”
At the time of his retirement following the 1975 season Frank had accumulated an impressive record: 263 VCFL matches, 2 Metropolitan Football League matches and 53 mid-week matches, totalling 318 appointments.
Of all those matches one stood out, even though the memories themselves were hazy. Umpiring at Hamilton he recalls, “I was knocked out cold in a collision with a ruckman and my first memories were of being revived with vile smelling salts aided by a big gulp of some old-time brandy reviver from the training staff. Both coaches insisted that I continue as there was only seven points between the teams with ten minutes to go. I don’t remember much about the last quarter but enjoyed the company with ruckman after match sinking many ales. I didn’t feel a thing until Sunday morning.”
Throughout his career Frank was not just contributing to football on the field. From 1970 to 1973 he was a member of the VFLUA Executive Committee and he followed that with election to the position of Assistant Secretary for 1974-75. Secretary in those years and a great mate of Frank, John Moss, recalled, “He was a calming voice on Executive through a few tough periods with the VFL and also during my time and lead up positions to President
In addition, Frank was the original secretary/treasurer of the VFLUA Golf Club when it became a formally constituted body in 1972.
“In those days we could have over a hundred members hitting off on golf days at courses like Beacon Hills. It was about maintaining associations with each other as we aged.”
He held this position for an extended period; long enough to be awarded life membership of the club.
Having already received life membership of the VFLUA (1972), Frank’s service was further recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1974.
The end of his on-field career was not an end to Franks’s involvement with umpiring and his connection began immediately after his last match.
“I retired at the end of 1975 and in 1976 Bob Elliott, one of the Regal group of taxi drivers who weekly transported members to country appointments, decided to take a year off to travel overseas with his wife Margaret. To protect his interest in the cab game he asked me to take out a taxi driver’s licence and do his trips that year. I did and thoroughly enjoyed the experiences.”
In 1977 the VFL appointed observers of country umpires and I was lucky to be asked to join that group. Two years later Harvie Lyons was on the VFL Umpires’ Appointment Board when he was transferred interstate in his job in mid-1979 and I was asked to fill that vacancy temporarily and maintained it until 1987 – so much for a temporary appointment! Alan Nash, Harry Beitzel and Bill Deller were most supportive during their periods as Senior Advisors and Directors of Umpiring through that period and I was most appreciative of the opportunity to continue my involvement.”
The feeling was mutual, as Bill recalled, “His experience and knowledge of umpiring enabled him to prepare feedback that was accurate and constructive. As Director of Umpiring at the time, I could rely on Frank to provide me with an accurate assessment of performances.”
After 28 consecutive years’ service to the VFL Frank retired and ultimately joined many of his former colleagues in retirement at Yarrawonga
Frank passed away on 13 November, 2012 the result of a fight with cancer
Throughout and after his umpiring days Frank never forgot or stopped supporting those with whom he umpired and those who came after him. No better testament comes, again, from Mossy who treasures, “a letter from him on my appointment to my first senior game which he knew was always an overriding ambition despite many saying that I would never make it.” That was ‘Gags’.
Vale Frank Gagliardi – umpires’ man