Geoff Morrow reached the pinnacle of umpiring in Australia’s two national sports through an extensive knowledge of the laws and an innate ability to respect and communicate with players, officials and supporters of both Australian football and cricket. This friendly outlook combined with a dry wit and excitement about everything served him well in his day-to-day life as well and garnered him hundreds of friends who delighted in his company.
Geoffrey Thomas Daniel Morrow was born in Geelong on 30 January 1952. His father, Tom, was the number one ruckman in the 1951 Geelong premiership side and as a local boy this sealed his lifelong devotion to the Cats.
A versatile and enthusiastic sportsman from an early age he played full-back for the Geelong College first-eighteen, cricket for the first eleven and dabbled in baseball and athletics. Later he enjoyed success with table tennis including premierships in the local Geelong competition.
It was at school that he first began umpiring when he controlled ‘House matches’. In year 12 he decided to umpire school matches and after leaving Geelong College Geoff joined the Geelong Football Umpires League in 1971.
A move to Melbourne and a job at the Bank of NSW saw him join the VFL Reserve Grade for two seasons after which he gained promotion to the VFL senior list in 1975. It was in these early VFL days that he was given the nickname ‘Harry’ after the character from the popular Australian series ‘The Sullivans’.
After country football for three full seasons he was appointed to his first country finals at the end of 1977 in the Northern District and then Ovens and King leagues. In late August 1978 he took the field with Ken Norris at Victoria Park for his first of 113 VFL Reserve Grade matches. They umpired together the following week at Arden Street and then Geoff finished the season with two VCFL finals.
The two umpire system gave double the opportunity for senior list umpires to impress and improve and Geoff took full advantage. His form allowed him to umpire almost all his football in the Reserves for the next three seasons but his first Grand Final was one umpire at Bordertown for the Tatiara League in 1981.
Round 1 1982 was big for Essendon – they crushed Footscray 191-81 at Windy HIll – but it was bigger for ‘Harry’ as he earned Heritage Number 289 by umpiring the match with Tony Bryant.
Twelve VFL matches that season, plus the Goulburn Valley Grand Final, was an outstanding first year. Geoff backed it up in 1983 with 13 matches – he always remembered the 10-point thriller at VFL Park between Collingwood and Carlton as a favourite – and his two best years 1984 and 1985 when he umpired thirty-nine out of a possible forty four rounds in the VFL and the 1984 Reserve Grade Grand Final.
At the end of the 1986 season Geoff left the VFL and joined the VFA umpires at Royal Park. He was an instant success umpiring the 1987 VFA Grand Final. As well as umpiring excellently himself, his experience at VFL level assisted a number of umpires who would later go on to senior VFL matches.
Geoff rejoined the VFL Umpires Association as the result of the VFL taking over the responsibility for umpiring the VFA. Until 1993 he added 69 VFA matches to his tally and along the way umpired the 1991 VFA Grand Final. By dint of his VFLUA Life Membership which he received in 1985 Geoff was also a Foundation Life Member of the Victorian State Football League Umpires Association when it was formed in 1992.
Retiring from running at the end of 1993 Harry was an observer for the VSFL from 1994-96. Renowned for not missing a thing that went on on the field he let umpires know both their strengths and weaknesses in no uncertain terms. From 2000 until his battle with cancer overtook him Geoff was also Umpires Advisor with the APS/AGSV.
If football consumed him during the winter months cricket did the same during the summer. As an umpire with the Victorian Cricket Association he shot up through the ranks. From district to first class to international cricket he umpired more than 200 Premier matches, Pura Cup and was third umpire in one day internationals and the 2002 Boxing day Test Match against England.
Umpiring provided many challenges but none greater than the one Geoff faced since being diagnosed with cancer. He fought the disease without losing any of the personality that endeared him to those who met him. This now included fellow patients undergoing treatment for whom he organised a funny hat party. Despite being ill he still managed to get to both cricket and football matches and renew acquaintances with players and officials alike. His friends rallied around him organising two big benefit events that assisted with his treatment.
Geoff Morrow passed away on 27 September 2007 aged 56 leaving umpiring in both cricket and football the poorer and family and many friends with a myriad of great memories of a life well lived.