My next ‘Where are they Now’ focuses on an Umpire who, in a small way, contributed to the demise of infamous coach of the Melbourne Football Club, Norm Smith. In 1964 Donald Reginald Blew (Heritage No. 240) was officiating as Field Umpire at the MCG in a clash between Melbourne and St. Kilda, when after the game Norm Smith in a radio interview called Blew a ‘Cheat’, accusing Don of being subconsciously biased towards the underdog. Don demanded an apology, but Smith refused, leading Don to sue for defamation. Smith went to the Melbourne F.C. Committee asking for their financial support but was politely told “you made the comment, wear it”. After being told not to do radio interviews, a few weeks later Norm Smith was replaced as Melbourne coach.

Born at Koringa Hospital Ascot Vale to Alf (Dec) & Hazel (Dec) on the 7th of March 1938, the family lived in the Ascot Vale where Don attended Ascot Vale West Primary before going on to Essendon Technical School. It was during this time that Don and his younger brother Russell started playing football with the Ascot Vale Youth Under 18’s in the Essendon District Football League.

How Don turned to Umpiring is an interesting story. Don and Russell were playing football with the Ascot Vale Youth Centre (Premiers of 1954), when they decided to try out for the Essendon Football Club Under 19’s. During a practice match Don injured his knee which ended his football career, and it was suggested to Don by his father that he turn to umpiring instead. Don never looked back and applied to the VFL Reserve Grade in 1958, where after three years he was promoted to the Senior list in 1961.

Don’s first game was in the Murray F.L. at Tocumwal where Strathmerton gave the home side a thrashing 14.24 to 3.7.  After only one year travelling the bush Don was promoted into the VFL Seconds in April of 1962 and debuted at the Western Oval. Sixteen Reserve grade games later saw Don promoted into the VFL Seniors, a game at Glenferrie Oval. Don was on his way Heritage Number 240.

In just his second time umpiring Essendon, the very first free kick Don awarded in the game was to his brother Russell for a Push in the Back. Russell went on to be a champion wingman at Essendon played in two premierships 1962 & 1965, and following retirement went on to captain/coach Waverley in the VFA for 3 years before turning to TV with HSV 7 and Radio commentary with 3AW and 3DB.  It has been noted that when Don umpired Essendon, his brother was just another player and received no special privileges.

It’s all happened to Don whilst umpiring, as during the Opening game of 1966 at Princes Park the siren to end the match failed as well as the emergency siren. The mounted Policeman at the ground raced onto the oval to notify Don that the game had finished. Don then ran to the other end of the ground to the timekeeper’s box and received the official word that the siren had failed. During the extra time a Carlton player had kicked a goal to get within 6 pts before the match ended. Richmond won 16.10 to Carlton 14.16. Later in the week during a call from Jack Hamilton when asked when he first heard the final siren, Don replied after we had showered and were heading to the after-game function when they had fixed the siren and were testing to see if it worked.

During his time as a Senior Umpire, it’s recorded that Don was the only umpire ever to report former Geelong Champion Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, for striking Des Dickson of Hawthorn with a back hander. After the game the Boardman Jack Hale asked Don whether there been any reports, to which Don replied yes. Hale’s response was “good, otherwise you would have spent 6 weeks in the bush”. Farmer was found guilty of striking by the tribunal but wasn’t suspended because of his fine service to football.

During the Summer Months Don played Cricket with South Essendon Methodist when a lovely lady by the name of Jean attended the games to watch her Brother-in-law.  Don sparked up a relationship with Jean and the couple went on to marry a couple of years later.

Don’s last game on the Senior List was the Bendigo F.L. Grand Final of 1967, and from all reports it was a fierce game with both sides desperate for victory.  Don’s tally of Grand Finals included Alberton (1962), Bendigo & Ovens & Murray (1965), Ballarat (1966) and Bendigo (1967). He also officiated in three finals in the night series at South Melbourne, walking away with $755 from the Umpires Provident fund.

Don also officiated 72 VFL games including 3 Night Games, 3 Reserve Grade Grand Finals 1965,1966 & 1967, 42 VFL Reserve Grade games, and 44 VCFL games.

Apart from umpiring the VFL Reserve Grade Grand Finals, Don’s biggest thrill was his first VFL Game, and to be appointed whilst umpiring in Tasmania to the Interstate clash in Adelaide between South Australia and Victoria in front of a crowd of 40,786, with the Vics winning on the day.

After his retirement from umpiring in the VFL in 1967, Don applied for a position as a Wool Auctioneer with Roberts Stewart in Tasmania.  He was also able to continue his umpiring in the Apple Isle from 1968 until 1978 all over Tasmania and because of his experience Don was asked if he would Coach the Northern Tasmanian Umpires.

It was during this time that Don became involved as an International Swimming Official. This venture began while Don’s son was participating in a swim meeting and the announcer spotted Don in the crowd, asking him to be timekeeper. From that day on he rose through the ranks to become a Swimming Referee. Don has attended six Olympic Games, as well as Commonwealth Games and many World Championships before his retirement after a 40-year career.

Don had the privilege of Opening the First Australian Masters Swimming Championship at the Davenport Olympic Pool in 1991, and in 1992 & 1996 Don was the Australian Representative on the FINA Swimming Committee holding the position of Chairman of the Committee from 2005 to 2009. He claims that the best Olympics he has attended was by far the Sydney Olympics, where Don happened to be the Head Referee at the games.                                 

During Don’s involvement with swimming, he has been awarded Life membership of Swimming Australia and a FINA Gold Pin for service. Don’s involvement in the swimming came to an end when he retired in 2013.

It was because of Don’s involvement in the Swimming and Football communities that he was appointed a member of the Order of Australia.

Don retired from his employment as a Wool Auctioneer in 1997 but continued part-time when needed with Fujii Keori – a Japanese Fine wool Producer – as their Director in Australia.

Today, Don with wife Jean are presently selling their house where they have lived in Launceston for 47 years, downsizing into a smaller unit. Don told me that while packing their belongings he came across his old VFL Appointments which he had put through the shredder, not to mention all the rubbish they had collected over the years.

The couple have two boys, one in Queensland and the other in Victoria, alongside four grandchildren they hope to spend more time visiting in the coming days and years.

Don loves his music with his favourite tune being Bluebird of Happiness, and when asked what he thought of today’s football stated that although they are faster & fitter, he loved the game when he umpired as there was more companionship amongst the Umpires in those days.

                  Good Luck Don & Jean with your downsizing and with your retirement, maybe one day we will see you at the Umpire’s Dinner at Caulfield Racecourse. Cheers, Wizzer.


                                                            Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows

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