No matter where you look, my next ‘Where are they Now’ in Anthony (Tony) Charles Bryant, Heritage Number 272, is in a class of his own. No matter what sport Tony took up, he excelled at – as you will see during his story.
Born on the 20 May 1949 to Alan (85) and Isobel Bryant (86) at the Ballarat Hospital, the family – with Tony the eldest, three sisters Susan, Debra, and Allana – grew up in the district. Young Tony took an interest in many sports. Attending Pleasant Street Primary School in 1956, he graduated moving on to Ballarat High School.
In 1965, at 16, Tony played senior football with the Ballarat Football Club. He had won the Ballarat Football Leagues Under 14’s and Under 16’s Best & Fairest, before his promotion to the seniors. A VFL club was very keen on inviting Tony down to play. So, at 17, he took up the challenge. After only four games in the reserves, Tony’s permits ran out. He returned to Ballarat but unfortunately broke his ankle, and a stellar career in the VFL came to an end. During the summer months, Tony was a member of the Ballarat Harriers – twice being the Club Champion, and being a member of The Wendouree Rowing Club. The club had one of the best eights in the country and tried out for the Olympics in 1964. Tony steered the crew.
Nineteen sixty-seven saw Tony as a Prefect for the school. At the end of the year, with a Matriculation Certificate under his wing, he continued on to the Ballarat Teachers College for three years (1968-70), where he graduated taking on a teaching role in the Education Department. His first appointment was at Coatesville Primary 1971-76, but in 1977, attended Monash University to further his career in teaching.
In 1970, Tony was enticed into umpiring by a fellow teacher in Lindsay Candy, who just happened to be the No.1 in Ballarat, joining the Ballarat Football League Umpires Association. After only one year, VFL Umpire Don Jolley watched Candy perform in the Ballarat 2nds Grand Final and recommended that Lindsay try out at the VFL. So, both Lindsay – who invited Tony to join him – applied in 1971 to join the VFL Reserve Grade list. This lasted two years. In that time, Tony umpired many Under 19 games, a 2nd Semi, and the preliminary final.
Tony was promoted onto the VFL Senior List in 1973, joining the Royal Park training track, where his first game was in the West Gippsland F.L.. After only three weeks on the list, Tony was promoted onto the Olympic Park list. Now his reputation as an excellent umpire soon travelled back to VFL House, so much so, that in his second season on the 15 June 1974, he was promoted into the VFL seconds – Sth Melbourne v. Collingwood at the Lakeside Oval.
It may have entered your mind as to how Tony received the Nickname ‘Blinky’. Whilst officiating with Bill Deller in the game Geelong v. St Kilda, a behind the play incident – where three players were suffering heat exhaustion – Tony just happened to miss the incident. At training the following week, his fellow umpires called him ‘Blinky’, and the nickname stuck.
For Tony, fitness meant everything. During the summer, he took on Athletics – running as an Amateur for the Box Hill Athletic Club, travelling from Ballarat to Box Hill each Saturday. In the car, there were four Ballarat Harriers, of which two turned out to be Olympians. His ability to run fast saw Tony win the Victorian Open Country Championship in the 100m, 200m, and 400m in 1968. His performances paid dividends, as the talented Tony was a member of the record breaking Victorian relay team in the 4 x 400m during the 1969 season.
Because Tony was receiving remuneration from his umpiring, his amateur status soon become a problem. So, Tony had to turn Professional. In his first race, in the 800m at Maryborough, he won easily. Over the following seasons, Tony continued to win 30 races – his biggest win was the Devonport Gift and the 400m at Footscray. He also won two races at the Stawell Easter Gift meeting (no, not the gift, but a heat) and the Burnie Gift.
In 1977, Tony was elected to the VFLUA Social Committee, and in 1978, elected to the Executive Committee – a most valuable experience. He also played cricket with the VFLUA Cricket Club, and played football for VFLUA at Pentridge and Wagga during this period.
Another interest Tony had was a quarter share in a Greyhound called Stawana with three other umpires, but the Greyhound kept running second so they called off the partnership.
With his employment, Tony moved to Murrumbeena Primary for two years (1977-78), then onto Hughesdale Primary at the start of 1979 – spending four years until 1983. It was during this time that Tony met another teacher Robyn, started dating, and in 1981, married in the lovely surroundings of Caulfield Park – then off to West Australia for their honeymoon. Today, after being 41 years married, they have two children – Dean and Georgia – and three grandchildren.
An excellent golfer, Tony was a member of the Buninyong Golf Club, playing ‘A’ grade pennant each Sunday, playing off a handicap of Four. He won the Traralgon Open and two teacher championship titles, where he was invited to join the Yarra Golf Club – improving his handicap to One, and won a Victorian Foursomes with that handicap. One week at Buninyong, Tony was asked if he would represent the club in an exhibition match at Foursomes, as three top young professional golfers from Melbourne would be arriving. To Tony’s surprise, the three golfers to turn up were Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Graham Marsh. What a thrill! When not playing with the internationals, Tony would help out with the VFLUA Golf Club where he was appointed captain, winning the club championship eight times. He plays regularly today with a handicap of Seven.
Now Tony was running hot in the VFL seconds, so much so, that curators were complaining about the burnt grass each Saturday. After only 18 VFL seconds, on 3 April 1976, Tony was promoted into the senior ranks with his first game at the Western Oval (Footscray 16.16 lost to Essendon 16.17), partnered with Ian Robinson.
Over the following years, Tony would obtain his share of senior and reserve games, and on the odd occasion, was sent to the bush in Representative Games. On 29 August 1981, Tony and partner Graeme Marcy had the privilege to officiate at the very last game to be played at the old South Melbourne ground, where on the day, a crowd of 8,485 watch North Melbourne 15.17 defeat South Melbourne 10.14.
In 1983, officiating at 18 VFL senior games, Tony was rewarded with the 2nd Semi-Final at VFL Park (Hawthorn 13.10 d. Nth Melbourne 6.12), partnered with Glenn James. Tony received Life Membership of the VFLUA in 1983.
To further his standing in the education department, Tony moved in 1984 to Clayton South Primary, until the end of 1988.
His next final appearance came in 1985, when again appointed to the VFL 2nd Semi-Final at VFL Park (Essendon 14.18 d. Hawthorn 9.8), partnered with Peter Cameron. He claims these two finals and his first senior game as the highlights of his career. Running a close 2nd was his appointment at the NSW Championship in 1975.
He claims his most embarrassing moment came in a Richmond game, when he called Royce Hart over to toss the coin, only to be told “toss it yourself ‘Blinky’”. Tony had forgotten that Royce had been disposed as Richmond skipper the previous year. His final appointment on the senior list was in 1985, when appointed to the Wimmera League Grand Final (Dimboola v. Horsham), partnered with Chris Mitchell. This match can now be seen on YouTube. His ambition, like many others, was to umpire a Grand Final but missed on that front; but claims the friendships with umpires and players more than compensated.
Tony’s career from 1973 to 1985 on the Senior List consisted of 131 VFL games; 2 VFL Finals; 77 VFL Reserve Grade games; 53 VCFL games; 15 VCFL Grand Finals in Leagues such as East Gippsland, Benalla & Dist., Mornington Peninsular, Goulburn Valley, Sunraysia x3, North Central, Ballarat x2, Ovens & Murray, Bendigo, Western Tasmania and Wimmera x2, plus 20 VCFL Finals. He also officiated at nine representative game. To top it off, Tony during his career had three Achilles operations and was still able to run out of sight in a dark night.
After retirement, Tony was asked if he would be interested in becoming a senior observer for the VFL, which he accepted and carried out that role for three years (1986-88).
In 1989, an opportunity to become Vice Principal at Silverton Primary School saw Tony take up the position. He was appointed Principal in 1993. During 2010, Tony was awarded Principal of the Year in Victoria and nominated for the Australian position but finished up a finalist. At the end of a School Term in 2016, Tony decided to retire – that was after 23 years as Principal at Silverton Primary School. With his employment, Tony has had many overseas trips.
I asked Tony to name one thing about himself that most people do not know, and his response was something he even did not know until 12 years ago: “I always had trouble running long distances, usually at tail end of Tan Trials and struggled at training long runs. My feet and legs would often go numb, and shortness of breath, and it was frustrating.
Twelve years ago, I went to hospital with some lung problems but they found my lung size was about ¾ of normal size. The specialist couldn’t believe I was able to do what I achieved, because I wasn’t getting the amount of oxygen to the muscles like normal people. That explained the numbness issues.”
In retirement, Tony enjoys a cup of coffee and watches all sports, but loves Australian Rules – with the players being so skilful. He has not been to an AFL game for over 20 years.
Article by: Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows
Images supplied by: Anthony Bryant