Our next “Where are they now?” Donald Casey may not have set the world on fire blowing the whistle at VFL level, but he certainly had a very good record in country football. 

Donald was born on the 25th of January 1943 at the Airlie Private Hospital in Ivanhoe. His unmarried mother Marie Hays from Burnie, Tasmania gave him up for adoption and on the 10th February 1943, Don went home to Preston with his adoptive parents Bill and Doris Casey.  Thirteen months later a brother Bruce joined the family.  In 1948 Don attended Tyler Street Primary School, then Reservoir High School from 1955 to 1960.

In 1953 Don met his future wife Gillian McLean whilst watching their fathers play cricket against each other. However, at the time Don was only 10 years old and Gillian 8.  Their friendship grew over the ensuing years and the couple tied the knot in March 1966. As it turns out, Gillian is the sister to former umpire Neil McLean.

Don and Gillian have three children – Dean, Glenn and Merryn and two grandchildren Freya and Steele.  His early sporting pursuits included cricket and football.  He played junior football with the Regent Boys Club and the Preston Scouts in the Preston District Junior Football Association. Later he played for the ES&A Bank in the Amateurs. Around the same time, he took up professional running winning the Trentham 100 yards and the Seymour Gift. An interesting side note to his pro-running was that Don, in later years, established contact with his Tasmanian roots, and discovered he had a half-brother, Ron Cornish, who had also been a pro runner.  It was only when they met, they discovered that they had competed against one another on numerous occasions without knowing they were related.

In 1961, Don began employment with the English Scottish and Australian Bank where he spent the next 28 years working his way up into various management roles.  He also worked with the Pacific Dunlop Group, the Victorian Football League (which became the AFL in his time) and KS Environmental, a waste management company.

He played football for the bank for two seasons then tried out at Collingwood (residentially bound – he wanted to go to Fitzroy) in 1963.  Missing out there, his brother in law Neil McLean who had just taken up umpiring, suggested he give it a try.  Don applied and was accepted by the VFL Reserve Grade in 1964.

Don umpired on the VFL Reserve Grade list (1964 – 66), went to the Senior List in 1967 for six years (1967-1973), two years in the VFA before returning to the VFL Reserve Grade list for a further 3 years (1976 – 78). 

Donald’s umpired 152 games whilst on the VFL Senior List between 1967 and 1973 which included two VFL Reserves, and 150 country appointments, eight of which were umpired during his six years on the Reserve Grade list.  In his time on the Reserve Grade list Don umpired numerous Under 19 matches, but unfortunately no finals at that level, however, he did officiate in many finals and grand finals in the leagues under the Reserve Grade’s patronage.  In 1985 Don umpired a season in the Diamond Valley, who were desperately short of umpires at the time.

Don’s game tally with the VCFL consisted of 108 A Grade, 33 B Grade and 9 C Grade.  Included in that total was one Inter League match, and 21 Finals including three Grand Finals (Mid Murray League, Omeo and District League & Farrer League). 

Don earned his nickname from the Cadet Squad days in reference to how he would whip them up at training.

Don’s most memorable game was in 1976 on the Reserve Grade list when he was appointed to the Federal League Grand Final between Mentone and Cheltenham. In an intense and extremely entertaining game between fierce rivals and neighbouring suburbs, the two sides went all out from the first bounce and seemed intent on settling some old scores.  So much so that twelve (12) reports were made in the first quarter.   Such was the spite that surfaced that the VFL Reserve Grade Board who were present at the game, had discussions with the Federal League Committee about calling the game off. During the next quarter things settled down considerably and there was only one further report late in the game, which went down to the wire with a goal kicked in the final minute by Mentone, to win the match.

After being promoted to the Senior List in 1967 he joined the Tuesday/Thursday training group at Royal Park.  His first official appointment was to a game in the Metropolitan League between Northcote Park and Fairfield, and he officiated in another 14 games that season.  In his second season on the Senior List he was appointed to a final in the Barellan League, which was a sort after appointment, particularly by the more ‘senior’ men on the list.

In his fifth year on the Senior List, Don was promoted to the Olympic Park panel and earned a VFL Reserves appointment to a Collingwood (13.17) v North Melbourne (12.14) match.  The following week he ventured out to a Footscray (14.7) loss to Hawthorn (19.11) and that was to be the end of his city career.  Back in the country for the next two seasons, Don decided to leave all the weekend travel behind due to his work and a young family and he resigned from the VFL at the end of the 1973 season.  During his time on the Senior List, Don served on the Social Committee for two years.

After his retirement as a running umpire he continued to support umpiring in many ways.  Don took up observing, was a member of the Reserve Grand Appointment Board for 3 years, Assistant Advisor on the VFL Reserve Grade List (John Sutcliffe) for one year, Assistant Advisor to the newly formed VFL Cadet Squad list for 3 years, Assistant to the VFL Director of Umpiring (Bill Deller OAM) for 4 years and National Training & Development Officer to Umpiring at the AFL for 3 years.  During his stint with the Umpiring Department, Don was developing a four level competency based training program for Field, Boundary and Goal Umpires in a National Accreditation Scheme.  Sadly, when the VFL became the AFL, they revamped the department and dispensed with the program which had received recognition from the Australian Sports Commission in Canberra.

All in all, Don had 26 years involvement in umpiring, officiating, coaching, board and administration receiving an honorary life membership of the AFLUA in 1988. He retired at the end of 1989, but later became part of a group who researched and wrote ‘The Man In White’ and ‘The Man In White – Country Connections’. Don was the author of ‘Blood in Your Boots’ which details the history of all VFL/AFL Grand Final Field Umpires. Don spent 14 years compiling all the details before the book was ready for publication.  This included interviewing every living grand final field umpire during which he delved into their personal stories, their reasons for being involved in umpiring etc.  An interesting and compulsive read!

Don has also served the Bundoora United Cricket Club as a player with a top score of 82 and best bowling of 4/82. He represented the club as captain, vice-president, treasurer, committee, junior coach and team manager. On top of all that, Don is an avid collector and keeper of statistical records and other information to help preserve the club’s history. Back in 1990, Don produced a book for the members which detailed the history of the club and recorded the batting and bowling performance of every player who have represented the club since its inception in 1968-69.  Don’s father in law Harry McLean was a foundation member of the club and the club champion’s trophy is still named after Harry today.  Don still maintains and records the club’s records today.

Since retiring, Don has produced a number of books mostly of a sporting nature, three children’s stories and one semi biographical tale, as well as a family history tree dating back to 1753. He has an interest in music dabbling with the piano and guitar as a teenager, and travel, having done a number of outback 4-wheel driving trips around Australia, and a number of overseas sojourns.  Lately he has a keenness for Lawn Bowls. Since 2003 Don has served the community as a Justice of the Peace.

A fantastic life’s journey…….thanks for sharing!!!

Graeme ‘Whizzer’ Fellows

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