Ian Cleland took up umpiring while in the army and only three and a half years later was making his debut as a senior VFL field umpire. Four years further on his services were dispensed with by the league but he went on to an extensive career in the sporting media and on the bowling green.
Born on 6 October 1919 in Inverleigh, Ian George Cleland grew up there and in Kooweerup before moving to Melbourne. He played football with Preston Seconds in 1938 and 1939 before moving to Fitzroy where he played in the seconds but was hampered by injury.
Joining the army in 1940 he began umpiring football in 1943. Immediately upon his discharge in 1944 he applied for a position with the VFL and was placed on the senior list.
In 1945 the senior list was umpiring only VFL, VFL Second Eighteen, Federal and Yarra Valley competitions during the home and away season and Cleland had the opportunity of four Second Eighteen matches in August. The following year nine more led to his first senior VFL appointment. Ian earned Heritage number 199 when he umpired North Melbourne versus South Melbourne at Arden Street in round eighteen. The following week he was in charge when Footscray visited KardiniaPark and completed the season with finals at Watchem and Warburton and a representative match between North Central and Ouyen football leagues.
1947 provided an unusual experience for Cleland when he had to stop play while Essendon and St.Kilda players chased a dog that had invaded the ground. The game continued once the dog had been caught. Only two VFL matches in the next two seasons and plenty of time in the country was a prelude to a tumultuous final season.
Although he umpired every round in 1950 it was the 15 July North Melbourne v. Carlton fixture that led to the end of his career. While leaving the ground at the end of the match Cleland had reported Carlton Secretary Harry Bell for assault and threatening language. Bell was a senior public servant at the time and there were serious implications for him if the civil assault charges went ahead. Mysteriously, the charges were dropped and Bell was given a slap on the wrist by the VFL.
Cleland was not invited by the VFL to umpire in 1951, to all intents and purposes his services were terminated. When he asked why he was not reappointed, he was charged with gambling during the Second Eighteens finals series the season before.
Cleland went public, accusing the VFL off drumming up a charge to justify terminating his services. He referred back to the Harry Bell affair and said that the VFL had influenced him to tone down the charges. “You scratch our back, we will scratch yours” he claimed was put to him by Like McBrien, then Secretary of the VFL.
Both Cleland and the VFL had a lot to say in the media about the Bell affair and the gambling allegations, but it quickly died down and Cleland was finished as an umpire after 33 VFL matches. In addition during 1949 and 1950 Cleland had served on the Executive Committee of the VFL Umpires’ Association
Clelo’s contribution to umpiring did not stop n 1950. From 1951-55 he was Umpires Advisor at the Eastern Suburban FL and VAFA Umpires Advisor between 1957-61.
Also following umpiring Cleland had an extensive career in the sporting media for which he was inducted into the MCG Media Hall of Fame in 2003. Even here sensation followed. In 1962 Cleland turned up to ferry new Brownlow medalist Alistair Lord down to Eastern Beach to meet a camera crew, and almost lost him, in a very near thing, in a level-crossing rail smash on the way.
Cleland’s long and outstanding service to Ivanhoe Bowling Club and lawn bowls generally was recognized by the naming of a club green in his honour.
Ian Cleland passed away on 18 March 2009 aged 89