Well, here we go! If my next ‘Where are they Now?’ profile is not an umpiring man, then I have not seen one.
Graeme Keith Williams has done it all. Starting as a Field Umpire; 6 Senior VFL games; 10 VCFL Grand Finals; Goal Umpire; VFL Grand Final Goal Umpire in 1990. A total of 23 years’ service to the AFLUA senior list. He operated as Umpiring Advisor with the Preston Dist. Junior Football Association for 7 years from 1977 to 1983. Awarded life membership of the AFLUA in 1981, after retiring, Graeme was then the Goal Umpires’ advisor with 3 junior competitions, Southern Umpires (1), Eastern District (11), and then the Northern Football League (6) – a total of 18 years. Graeme’s other awards are 1990 Most Improved Goal Umpire, 1992 Foundation Member of the VFUA, 1996 Lifetime Achievement award for organising Goal Umpires’ reunions for 10 years, and in 2008, was entered into the AFLUA Hall of Fame.
Born in Benalla at the District Hospital on 23rd July 1946 to Keith and Florence Williams, it was not long before the family moved to Westgarth – a suburb of Northcote, where in 1952, Graeme and his older brother attended the Westgarth Central Primary School until 1958. Graeme played football at primary school. After primary school, Graeme attended Collingwood Technical School for four years. Graeme applied for a position at the Gas and Fuel as an apprentice Fitter and Turner, where he worked for 10 years. In 1971, Graeme applied for a position with the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories as a Fitter and Turner, and was employed for 28 years until his retirement.
In 1972, Graeme got married. He played cricket with the Northcote Methodists Churches Competition from 1964 to 1972, and was a good wicket-keeper and fieldsman. Batting and bowling were not his strong points. Graeme also enjoyed playing Badminton from around the age 14 through to his mid-20’s.
Whilst working for the Gas and Fuel, he was sent to Sydney to attend an Outward Bound Camp for four weeks in 1967. After returning to work, Graeme was pretty fit, and a friend Leon Smith suggested that he take on umpiring in the Preston District Junior Football Association. Each Saturday he officiated in two games, one as field umpire in the morning, the other as boundary umpire in the afternoon for an extra $2.
In 1969, Graeme applied and was accepted onto the VFL Reserve Grade list, where he officiated at 27 appointments, three in the Under 19’s in 1970.
1971 saw Graeme promoted onto the Senior list where he joined the Tuesday / Thursday training group at Royal Park under Harold Hodgson and Dick Kidd. On Monday and Wednesday nights, he would train at Royal Park with Kevin Smith. Graeme recognizes Kevin as one of the best umpires he has seen. The extra work paid off for Graeme who got a lot out of himself with very hard work. His first appointment on the Senior list saw him travel to the West Gippsland F.L. and it was not long before he was promoted to the Olympic Park training group in 1972. He soon became a member of the ‘A’ Group. In June 1973, Graeme was appointed to his first Reserve grade game (Geelong 13.20 d. Nth Melbourne 13.9).
In 1975, Graeme was emergency umpire in the game Essendon v. Carlton during the third quarter. Boundary Umpire Bill Sutton broke down, so Graeme replaced him and ran out the game on the boundary.
In June 1976, after 17 Reserve Grade games, Graeme was appointed to his first Senior VFL game – Sth Melbourne 19.10 d. St. Kilda 12.27 in the two-umpire system – partnered with Mike Henry. He was granted Heritage number 274. Completing six games, his last game was Essendon 18.11 d. Melbourne 15.14 – all with Mike Henry.
He lost his place at the end of 1978 on the Olympic Park group but he continued to umpire around the bush. Brought in for several more Reserve Grade games, Graeme was not able to force his was back into the seniors. Graeme decided to resign as a field umpire at the end of the 1980 season, after he had officiated at 169 VCFL games, 10 VCFL Grand Finals, (’73 Hume, ’74 Hume, ’75 Kowree Nara., ’76 Farrer & Hume, ’78 Northern Dist., ’79 Mid Murray & O. & M., ’80 East Gipps. & Hume), 30 VCFL Finals and 8 Representative games. Four of his Grand Finals were requested by the Hume F.L.. His last game on the list as a field umpire saw him officiate at the Hume F.L. Grand Final (Walla Walla 21.8 d. Brocklesby 12.16).
Still wanting to umpire, Graeme returned to the PDJFA as Coach and officiated there for two seasons (1981-82). Whilst Graeme was still umpiring on the Senior list, he was appointed advisor to the PDJFA from 1977 to 1983. So, every Wednesday he would train and lecture junior umpires. Umpires who went on to become VFL/AFL umpires were Darren Goldspink (AFL Grand Finals), Brendon Trezise 8 games, Alan Rigby 27 games.
Graeme decided to take on goal umpiring where he returned to the VFL in 1983. Once again, he excelled officiating at the Under 18 Grand Final between North Melb. v. Richmond. His partner that day was Doug Purse. In 1984, Graeme was awarded Goal Umpire Heritage No.197, where his first game in the goals at senior level was at VFL Park (Fitzroy 22.15 d. St. Kilda 11.17) with Peter Taylor.
Graeme’s other noteworthy appointments were 1986 Fosters Cup, 1993 State of Origin (Tasmania b Queensland/Northern Territory). Graeme was appointed to the Reserves Grand Final in 1987 between St. Kilda v. Carlton with his partner Phil Watson and the field umpires Gavin Dore and Mike Sneddon. 1989 saw another Reserves Grand Final appointment.
1990 – Graeme considers this year to be his best in umpiring. Awarded the Most Improved Goal Umpire, he also officiated at the 1990 AFL Grand Final, partnered with Alan Grant and the field umpires were Denis Rich and Rowan Sawers, Collingwood 13.11 d. Essendon 5.11, with Normie Rowe the pre-match entertainment. After the Grand Final, Graeme was appointed to the United Kingdom Exhibition match in London between Collingwood v. Essendon.
During an Essendon v. Collingwood game in 1994, Graeme, as a goal umpire, was knocked to the ground by Sav Rocca. After recovering, he placed his hat back on and continued umpiring the match.
Over the 13 years of goal umpiring, Graeme officiated at 154 games, including a Grand Final as a Goal Umpire. He was also appointed to 2 Qual. Finals, 3 Elimination and 1 1st Semi., 5 VFA, 11 Reserve Grade and 2 U.18’s. His last game in the goals was at the Western Oval where St. Kilda 20.12 d. Footscray 11.12. His partner that day was Craig Clark.
As the goal umpire advising two of his umpires from the Eastern F.L., who went on to umpire at AFL level. They were Simon Plumridge 23 games and Brad Letson 17 games.
Graeme and his partner Ann have travelled to the U.K. to watch Cricket at Lords and Headingly, visited Canada and the United States, and recently undertook a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.
Asked what he thought of football today, Graeme stated the skills are great but it gets too congested.
These days, Graeme is a keen golfer playing at the Heidelberg Golf Club off a handicap of 18. He plays three times a week. He stated golf can be very stressful, especially if you are having a bad round but loves the game, considering it as his hobby. He loves spending time with his family, and enjoys his gardening, especially his veggie patch.
A comment in an old Man in White Picnic Issue by Graeme stated that umpiring develops companionship that quickly becomes a way of life. How true, Graeme! Good luck in the future.
# Article written by AFLUA Life Member Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows.
# Photos via AFL Umpires Association archives.