Steve Stevens OAM

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.

On the field he was appointed to 118 VCFL matches eight of which were Grand Finals. He was a favourite in the Central Wimmera Football League where he umpired the premiership match in four consecutive seasons, 1950-1953. The 1951 Hampden Football League Grand Final was perhaps his most prestigious match but he did umpire two VFL Second Eighteen matches in 1950 and one in 1953. He retired from the field in 1954 but two years later rejoined the VFL Second Eighteens as a goal umpire.

His success in the goals was swift. In 1958 he umpired the Reserve Grade Grand Final but Bill Caddy was chosen to fill the single vacancy on the Goal Umpires Senior List. He repeated the effort the following year and this time both he and Grand Final partner Tom Rossiter were promoted.

North Melbourne versus Footscray at Arden Street was Steve’s first VFL match in round 2, 1960 and over the next three seasons he compiled a total of 46 matches before his first VFL final – the 1962 First Semi. It was a cracking game with Melbourne leading Carlton for three quarters before the Blues fought back in a stunning final term scoring 2.5 to 0.2 to take victory by two points.

The following year Steve was appointed to his first VFL Grand Final and the next year he umpired his second in a row, this time with fellow 1960 debutant, Tom Rossiter.

While 1963 was a one-sided victory for the Cats, 1964 was a sensational match. It was tight all day and only won in the dying moments with a goal to Melbourne back-pocket Neil Crompton.

1966 would always be Steve’s last year with the VFL and he made the most of it. Elected mayor of the City of Moorabbin that year he was also involved in the Grand Final that finally broke St.Kilda’s premiership drought. These appointments led to his 2005 induction as an AFLUA Grand Final Legend.

Immediately after his league retirement Stevens took on the role of Umpires’ Advisor at the South East Suburban Football League. At that time an Umpires’ Association was non-existent and the relationship between the umpires and the league was poor. However, Steve declared that “there will be an Association and you leave the league andthe board to me……you will get co-operation and your Association will prosper… go and get it fixed up!” This was the beginning of theSouth East Suburban Football League Umpires Association its first President wasBob Dight who had also just retired as a VFL field umpire. Steve was Umpires Advisor for the 1967-68 seasons.

It was not his first role in sports administration. He had also been Umpires Advisor for the Melbourne Boys League before turning to the goals. Then the year when he joined the Seconds he took on the dual role of Secretary and Umpires’ Advisor of the Sunday Suburban Leagueand later was secretary of the Camberwell Football Club. All this in addition to his service to the City of Moorabbin where he was twice elected mayor. For his work in the community hewas awarded an Order of Australia.

Always a keen golfer and a long standing member of Commonwealth Golf Club Steve had several hole-in-ones to his credit.

Married firstly to Bette McIvor they had two sons, Kenneth and Brent, then to Mary Dumas of California following Bette’s passing, Steve travelled regularly between the United States and Australia for two decades. Steve returned to Melbourne permanently after Mary’s death.

Steve Stevens passed away on 25 February 2008 after a short illness, an icon of umpiring.

You can see Steve’s work in the 1966 Grand Final by clicking here. Steve is at the City end in the first half.