Boundary umpiring in the 1950s was a hard slog. The game may have been slower than today but weather and ground conditions were abysmal. Harry (or Hank) Rowland ran the boundary in 140 VFL matches between 1950 and 1959 when mud, rain and low scores were the norm.
Henry George Rowland was born in Richmond on 8 May 1924. The family moved to Footscray and Harry attended Hyde Street State School. Although not big of build, as a footballer he played for Waratah Football Club in the Footscray District Football League and was an adaptable tap ruckman, excellent for his size. It was later that he took up boundary umpiring with the VFL Second Eighteen competition.
In 1949 he umpired the Second Eighteen Grand Final with Leo Sutton and the following season both were promoted to the senior list. Leo and Harry were of similar physique and Leo recalls, “When we came onto the list Bill Blackburn would always be getting us confused and hand out the appointments to the wrong fellow!”
Henry debuted in round one 1950 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where Melbourne beat Carlton. The appointment earned him Heritage Number 291.
The 1953 season saw Harry at some memorable matches, including Ron Barassi’s debut, but none summed up the era like Footscray versus Fitzroy in round five. It had been raining for days and the Western Oval was virtually under water. In addition a drain had also broken adding more water to the deluge. The game went ahead and with only minutes remaining Fitzroy was scoreless until Alan Rutheven swung his leg and kicked their only goal. Running the boundary was a saturating experience. Indeed a year previously conditions were so wet and muddy the VFL experimented with white footballs to aid in seeing them.
Harry’s only VFL final also came in 1953 – a low-scoring affair due to the gusty wind – Footscray defeating Melbourne by eight points. Later in his career Henry umpired his only senior Grand Final, the 1958 night premiership decider at the Lake Oval.
Harry was part of a VFL umpiring trial that sent senior boundary umpires to the VCFL or city competitions as field umpires. During 1955 he was appointed to Seville versus Marysville (Yarra Valley League) and to Reservoir versus East Brunswick (Metropolitan League). However his performances were viewed he did not take up the field in the future. He did make numerous country appearances as a boundary umpire in VCFL finals including Grand Finals in the Alberton (1956), South-West District (1956), Gippsland (1957) and Latrobe Valley (1959) Football Leagues. The Latrobe Valley Grand Final at Yallourn was his final VFL appointment.
At the end of the 1959 season Harry retired from the VFL having completed 140 matches, one final and a night Grand Final. He became a Life Member of the VFLUA in 1960
Like many boundary umpires Harry also ran professionally. He was a capable middle distance runner mainly over the half-mile and mile. He had a number of heat victories at country gift meetings and several wins, including the Bendigo Mile. His athletic trainer was Norm Harrison and Harrison’s brother, Stan, was Harry’s his umpiring trainer. Harry was also attended to by his brother, Cecil, who accompanied him to matches.
Henry Rowland passed away on 1 May 2008.