There are few more enduring – and amusing -images from Grand Final history than the goal umpire pole axed in the 1966 St.Kilda v. Collingwood Grand Final. Steve Stevens was umpiring his final VFL match when he staggered into the goal square and back past the goal line before recovering his senses and signaling a goal to the Saints. Stevens’ recent passing was a loss not only to umpiring but, as a result of his extensive work in local government, to the community.
Born on 13 August 1915 at Hay, NSW Harold Roy Vincent ‘Steve’ Stevens had turned fifty in1965 and under VFL regulations was to be automatically retired. Having umpired 106 VFL matches since his debut in 1960 Steve wanted to go out with a bang and when a player ran through him he could not let the opportunity go by.
Steve had served in the Royal Australian Navy and it was here that he was first turned onto umpiring.
“I used to play rugby and Australian football for the Navy. Sometimes, just for a change, I’d umpire inter-ship and inter-service games. In this way I can honestly say I have officiated in games all over the world.
“As soon as we sailed into a port where there were Aussies, a challenge would be issued for a game of football.One day in 1946 a young rating told me he was a League Seconds umpire. He gaveme a rule book and suggested I might make a career with the whistle.” Thatyoung sailor was future VFL Grand Final umpire, Harry Beitzel.
Football, rugby and umpiring were not the sports Steve first excelled in. That honour goes to wrestling. Between 1937 and1943, whilst in the Navy, he had an impressive record of 14 wins, 6 draws and 3losses. Such was his prowess that he earned the nickname ‘Rough-house’.
An extract from a Cairns newspaper late in his career gives a good indication of the type of action he faced inthe ring and his sporting versatility.
Steve Stevens, the Australian Navy athlete has filled many roles this season, from star defender at rugby to goal-kickerat Australian Rules and he has made a success of them all. Add to the list villain in a wrestling match for he played that part against Namey, American grappler, in an all-in encounter…the crowd was with him as he vigourously forearm-jolted his protesting opponent across the mat…sitting on the ropes, jostling the referee and jumping from the ring to avoid danger were some of Steven’s third round antics, but it was in the last round that he wrestled best to gain the Indian death lock position and equal the match with one fall apiece…even if they didn’t swallow it all, the crowd loved it, especially the climax when Stevens chopped Namey’s wrist when the latter was about to shake hands…an American sailor jumped intothe ring to remonstrate, and in a second the hempen square was filled for ‘theAussies and the Yanks were there’…the diversion was in the best tradition of West Melbourne…
In 1946, prior to leaving the Navy, Steve took Harry’s advice and approached the League to become an umpire. Unusually, he by-passed the Reserves and was immediately placed on the Senior List but a transfer soon after saw him spend the remaining season in Sydney where he handled games for the Sydney league and was good enough to be appointed to the Grand Final.
The following year he returned to Melbourne and the VFL Senior List where he spent nine seasons as a field umpire covering all areas of Victoria and southern New South Wales. While on thelist during this period he served on the VFLUA Executive Committee as Social Secretary in 1954 and was manager of several end of season trips.