“The only difference in my umpiring now compared to 20 years ago is that I can now run backwards as fast as I run forward,” exclaimed Terry as he walked onto a ground early one Saturday morning to umpire a Western Region Football League under 18 match with a young up and coming umpire who for all intent could’ve been his grandson. 

After watching him for the first quarter, he had not understated his running at all, but what he did have was complete control and he didn’t miss a free kick, which is an innate ability only 56 years of umpiring experience can bring.

Terry’s journey began when he applied to join the VFL Reserve Grade in 1961 as a seventeen year old.  “I was running as an amateur and I wasn’t good enough to play senior footy so umpiring combined my love of footy and passion for fitness.  In my first year on the reserve grade I umpired 3 games on the boundary and 1 on the field because they had appointed too many field umpires.”

Terry was invited to join the VFL senior panel in 1966 with the likes of Graeme Patterson, Peter Matheson, Bob Dunball, Ian Pritchard and Jack Miller, all of whom went on to become life members and strong contributors to footy both on and off the field.  “John Sutcliffe turned down his invitation to the senior panel, waiting to get a better rating by umpiring more under 19 VFL footy, I was advised to wait as well but I thought I might never get another opportunity again, so I took it. 

Terry retired from the senior panel 20 years later in 1985.  “The VFL had reduced the number of country competitions we were umpiring down to 5.  They had really kept me on to provide experience to all the young guys in cabs as we headed to the country each weekend to umpire.”

Terry did take his umpiring seriously and it was always a family affair.  After all he met his wife Barbara in Wycheproof and their best man was Fred Baker, secretary of the Ovens and King league. 

Terry reflects with pride his AFLUA life membership, lifetime achievement award, the Bishop Shield and Hall of Fame membership.  He umpired 417 VCFL games including 5 grand finals and sat on the bench no less than 47 times as an emergency umpire in VFL games.  His other achievement is still creating controversy today.  “I assisted Alan Schwab in writing the rules for the international rules game as we know it today.  Harry Beitzel had lead the “Galahs” tour to Ireland and the VFL wanted to put it onto a more secure footing.  Terry umpired practice matches at Dandenong and VFL Park as they bedded down the new concept.  “I was flown to Sydney to umpire the curtain raiser match which was an under 18 international rules game before the first night game ever at the SCG when the Swans played Geelong.  I then sat as the emergency umpire for the senior game.”

Terry was also a tireless association worker and held many portfolios on the UA executive.  “In my three years as social secretary we had Bob Hawke, Andrew Peacock, both Federal opposition leaders at the time and the Governor of Victoria, John Winneke as guest speakers at our annual dinners.”

However, Terry didn’t stop there.  He joined the Western Region Football League in 1986 as their Advisor, a position he held for 16 years until 2002.  Terry likens his time as advisor to the number of recruits he sent to the AFL, including names like Matt James, Troy Pannell, Craig Clark, Rod Davies, David Dixon, Steve Stirling, Peter Herrick, Shane Jansen to name but a few.  “We always had success in that era because we invested in our coaches, including the likes of Bob Gilham and Leigh Keen then more recently Rod Davies.  They made a significant difference.” Terry has held the position as secretary of the WRFLUA since 2003 to the current day. 

Terry stopped counting the number of games he has umpired many years ago but quietly indicated it would be over 2000.  Even this year, aged 71 he umpired three each weekend.  Terry has been rewarded for the time he has committed to the sport of football, receiving the Australian Sports Medallion in 2000.  He is a life member of the WRFL and the WRFLUA.  He is in the WRFLUA hall of fame as a legend of their association.

All of Terry’s children have umpired at least one season.  “Adrian started when he was 11 and at age 35 is still umpiring.  Mark umpired for one season before he went back to playing.  Bronwyn and Kyle also umpired for around 5 years.  Barbara was my appointment board secretary for all of the years I was the advisor.”  

So Terry, any thoughts of retirement?  “I start my preseason running next week but I never make a decision until the eve of the season so we will wait and see,” said Terry earnestly.  You know, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him still going when he turns 75.

Great stuff Terry.


Terry O'Donnell


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