In the golden days, one could easily identify a goal umpire by the fact his goal umpire flags would stick out of their Gladstone bag, however due to the innovation of our next ‘Where are they now?” Jack Miller, goal umpire sticks changed forever when he designed a pull apart stick which could easily fit into an umpires’ bag.  The idea was inspired by field umpire Bill Pryde who decided and take up goal umpiring.  Bill asked Jack if he could make him a set of flags and the rest is history.

And how did he design the sticks?  Each were made from 20mm conduit and are reinforced at the joint by another smaller internal conduit for extra strength.  The aluminium islet hole is in place for each to attach the flag to the stick.  The handle is knurled for easy non-slip grip, are quality made and should last for the length of a goal umpires’ career.  Jack’s innovation was rewarded with a VFLUA Lifetime Achievement Award.  Once Jack retired from his employment in 1994, he decided to stop making the flags and Southern Football League umpire Keith Livingston took over.  Since 1976, they have been produced by VFLUA life member and the Local Footy Show host Ian Bennett and his wife Barb, who is a qualified seamstress who has been making the flags for 26 years.

Jack was born in Carlton on 1 August 1937 to Ted and Jean Miller and along with his brother Ron and sister Norma lived in Northcote.  Jack attended Fairfield State School in 1943 for six years before moving onto the Collingwood Technical school where he finished in 1952 to become an apprentice carpenter and joiner.  Over the next 22 years, Jack held a number of jobs in trade before taking on a job teaching woodwork to Occupational Therapy students at the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences in 1974. Having access to a well-equipped workshop, jack made small football trophies for retiring colleagues and presentation gavels for about 10 VFLUA presidents.  In 1994, Jack took a redundancy package, renovated his home, then ran his own renovation / handyman business until his full retirement in 2002.

During a party in Darebin, Jack took a fancy to a nurse called Marj Brain from the Fairfield Hospital.  They started dating and in 1960, they married in a small country town called Beulah. Today, they have just celebrated their 60th year of marriage and have two sons, a daughter, two grandsons and two granddaughters. (Congratulations!!!).

In 1953, Jack started playing football with Alphington Amateurs Under 19’s and seniors when the club won the B-grade grand final and the seniors were promoted to A-grade.  Jack continued playing at the top level in the Amateurs until 1957. Describing himself as a good average player, he was approached one day by VFL field umpire Stan Fisher who suggested Jack take on umpiring.  He took up the idea and joined the Reserve Grade in 1958.

During his time on the Reserves Grade list Jack umpired finals in the Eastern District and Federal leagues and Grand Finals in the Diamond Valley and Goulburn Valley Leagues.  In 1965 Jack was appointed to the VFL Under 19 grand final where Collingwood 8-20-68 defeated Carlton 9-10-64.

Jack joined the senior list in 1966 where he claimed to learn the most about umpiring from the ‘Senior Men’ on the trips to the country, where his first game on the senior list was in the Alberton League where Welshpool 8.12 d. Devon 7.7. Completing 13 years on the senior list his tally of games – VCFL 216; VCFL Grand Finals 5 (Kyabram, Coreen, Kowree Nara., Omeo & Dist. & Alberton); VCFL Finals 18; Inter-league 1; Metropolitan 2.  On reflecting, going through the leagues that Jack has umpired in and you would have trouble pronouncing some of the names of the towns. Jack laughs when he says he’s not interested in travelling overseas and has seen most of Australia.

A funny experience happened in 1970 when the Ovens and Murray League experimented with a Sunday game between Wodonga and North Albury with Jack being appointed to the game.  Travelling by train as directed, Jack’s train arrived very late with officials anxiously waiting for him at the railway station.  They drove him to the match arriving 45 minutes after the starting time. In order to save time, Jack inspected the players boots on the ground but soon realised he’d left his whistle in the room and had to wade his way through an unruly crowd to retrieve it.  Both coaches – Mick Bone and Murray Weideman (both ex-Collingwood players) were far from impressed.  Wodonga lost the match and officials from that club refused to socialise with Jack post-match. One member, an Italian Australian became Jack’s best friend and plied Jack with his own red wine all evening.  Suffice to say Jack had a massive hangover for the train trip home.

In 1976, with the Royal Park training group abandoned, Jack took over the running of the UPD when it was held at Richmond’s Punt Road Oval.  In this same year Jack was awarded life membership of the VFLUA. Social functions run by the Association, especially the Annual Picnic, played an important part in his time on the list.

At the end of the 1978 season, Jack decided to retire from umpiring. His Last game was the Alberton League Grand Final played at Yarram where Foster d. Woodside. Since then Jack has not been to a VFL or AFL game. Jack’s wife Marj was thrilled to have him home during the football season but it didn’t last long before he was approached by Bulleen-Templestowe AFC to be their team manager for their newly formed Under 19 side.  The team had immediate success winning the premiership in Jack’s first year. In 1982, he took over as the coach winning the premiership in his first year.

Jack is still with Bulleen / Templestowe where in 1989 he was made a Life Member for services rendered, including serving on the Committee, timekeeping, and general club stuff. He also took on the role of official scorer with the Cricket Club in the Box Hill Reporter Competition, a job he has done for 15 years. He was presented with life membership in 2015. His sons Warren and Andrew played with the club and are both life members.

In 1977 Jack and his family spent time at Queenscliff where they had a caravan onsite and frequent visitors were Brian ‘Hook’ Turner and wife Virginia. Jack joined the Queenscliff Golf Club and also enjoyed Umpires’ Golf Day.  In 2010, they decided they weren’t using the van enough and it was sold, thus ending a chapter of great memories down at Queenscliff.

Jack sums up by saying he will always have fond memories of his 21 years with the VFL Reserve Grade and Senior lists.  To his old running mates, he says ‘I will never forget you!’       

Graeme ‘Whizzer’ Fellows

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