Members, I have been asked to write about myself, which could be difficult. But I have one advantage – having all the information stored in my cranium. It’s just a matter of getting it out without obtaining a big head. Only joking… you know my sense of humour!
Born to Len and Doris Fellows at McNeilly’s Private Hospital in Thornbury on 30th January 1945, as the only child, I grew up in Northcote. As a child I would always tap to any music, coming from a theatrical family, related to the Ashton Circus. My parents had purchased me a snare drum as a Christmas present.
In 1950, I attended the Helen Street State School and although I was good at Arithmetic, I was un-attentive and would rather be outside playing games. I attended my first VFL game – Fitzroy v. Geelong at Brunswick St. Oval this year, which continued for the next 10 years, not missing a game. I was promoted to the Northcote High School in 1957. I was a keen sportsman – so much so that I would hurry my tea down to get outside and play football (with a paper football) or cricket or athletics – whatever the season.
My parents organised that I attend Loles Music Shop in the city. Every Monday night, I would learn how to read music as well as play the drums correctly. A brand new kit of drums was purchased, and after 70 lessons, the teacher said that he couldn’t teach me anything else, and to go out and join a band. I played one night as a fill-in. They were very happy but I wanted to go and play sport, so the drums took second place. These still sit under our house today!
In 1962, I joined the Leader Newspapers in High Street Northcote as a printer of the local newspapers. Down the end of our street, we had a paddock where we made our own football ground and a cricket pitch. We had around 30 kids wanting to play, so we decided to form our own club. After a meeting at one of the parents’ homes, five boys and one girl made up a Constitution, and we called ourselves the West Croxton Sports Club. This was to be changed in time to be the Croxton Youth Club.
In no time, we had two Cricket teams, five Basketball Teams, two Girls’ Basketball teams, five Under Age Football teams, one Open Age Football team. I would help my father manage the Under 16s’ Football team, where one day I was shouting at the Umpire, when he stopped the game, came over and said, “If you think you can do better, well, have a go”. I heeded his advice and joined the Preston District Junior Football Association Umpires the following year. I umpired in glasses and copped some flack occasionally, although only at Under 12s’ level.
In 1965, I obtained contact lenses, though these took some time getting adjusted to. So, I decided not to umpire and helped out with the Croxton Open Age team as a trainer.
All set to go in 1966, I was back to umpiring in the PDJFA, reaching the top level Under 17s’. In 1967, I applied to the VFL Reserve Grade list of Umpires and the question at my interview asked of me by Jack Irving was, “What constitutes a mark?”, to which I replied, “A kick that travels more than 10 yards”. Bingo! I was in! In those days, the room was full of umpires – over 600 as a matter of fact.
My first appointment was out at Dandenong Juniors Under 16s, with a trip to the Eastern Districts 2nd Div. the following week, where board member Doug Lamb was there to observe. The following Thursday at the meeting, I was called out to the little room (I am sure many umpires from the time would appreciate the little room), where Doug Lamb’s opening comments were, “I was very impressed with your performance, and as of today, you will be umpiring at a higher level”.
Come 1968, and early in the season, I was appointed to the Under 19s’ game – Collingwood v. Footscray at Victoria Park. Jack Irving was the observer, who was full of praise. Three Under 19s’ games later, I finished off the year as Emergency to Ian Robinson in the Under 19s’ Grand Final.
In 1969, I was promoted to the VFL Senior List with 35 other umpires, and travelled the bush gaining experience. Early in 1970, I was appointed to leagues where observers rated my performance, not once but twice in five weeks. On 4th July, I was appointed to the VFL Reserve Grade game – Carlton v. Richmond at Princes Park. Although, after a disheartening review, in the following two Reserve Grade games, I knew I was not up to my usual standard. I was dropped and sent to the bush to gain more experience.
During one of those country trips, I received the nickname “Wizzer” from Stan Tomlins. Apparently, there was a cartoon where the person would go incognito. I would take off my glasses and put in contact lenses, and this is where my nickname originated.
Back into the 2nds early in 1971 where I had received good reports. But that was until I was appointed to Geelong, where there were some more disappointing reports. So, for the rest of the season and during 1972, I was in and out of the 2nds. I was all set to fire up in 1973, when I was told by Alan Nash that he would be observing my performance in the next week or two. Unfortunately, I caught chicken pox and had to pull out. There you go – out for one month. Devastating!
After umpiring in 13 of the 20 rounds in the 2nds in 1974 with largely good reviews, and another year hopeful of being given a chance in 1975, I missed out and I felt like giving it away. That was until Bill Deller and Mike Dye convinced me to give it one more year. Thankfully I did, as the two-umpire system came into play in 1976 and after five matches in the 2nds, I was given the opportunity at Senior level at VFL Park – Essendon v. Richmond, partnered with Ian Robinson.
Nineteen eighty-one was an interesting year, starting with my participation in the Umpires’ Ultra Marathon around Victoria, which the Umpires completed for charity. I then umpired my last senior game at VFL Park – Fitzroy v. North Melbourne, partnered by Peter Cameron. My last game on the Senior List was the Bendigo League Grand Final at Queen Elizabeth Oval.
After a career spanning 13 years on the Senior List, I jumped at the opportunity after Bill Deller enquired of my interest to observing Senior matches. This subsequently led to more opportunities to do video work with umpires, around the newly-formed Cadet Squad. In 1984, I successfully completed the Umpire Advisors Course run by Graeme Patterson, and was then officially appointed Video Operator/Advisor to the Cadet Squad under Advisor John Sutcliffe, and then in 1986 with Glenn James.
In 1989, I was promoted into videoing the VFL 2nds and prepare educational video tapes for the group. I would also video Senior games to assist senior observers in their assessments of umpires’ performances. I obtained the nickname ‘The Axeman’! The video doesn’t lie and some umpires would argue until they were blue in the face about a decision being shown to them.
I continued playing Cricket with the Croxton Youth Club from 1961 – 1973, recording 122 games and finishing as Club Champion in 1969-1970. I also played for the Fairfield Methodists during 1974 – 1975. I walked out with the Umpires’ cricket team for 10 years, captaining the side for a couple of seasons. After retiring from umpiring, I joined the Bundoora United Cricket Club (1982 – 1989, 80 games, captained the ‘C’ grade team for four years and was Club Champion 1985 – 1986). I recently had the honour of being selected into the Team of the Decade 1978-88 with the Bundoora United Cricket Club.
I also played Basketball with the Youth Club from 1962 – 1969 (45 games, twice runners-up). At work, we formed a basketball team called the Leader Stars, where I was captain-coach, and earned two more runners-up finishes. I have enjoyed Golf, playing off a handicap of 14, and an occasional game of Squash.
On the employment front in the newspaper industry, after The Herald formed a new company called Argus Australasian, to which I was appointed Print Manager on the day shift. In 1993, after 29 years printing newspapers, my time came to an end.
In 1995, I was introduced to invest in the hotel industry by a cousin, and we finally settled on The Railway Hotel Mangalore – 20 kms north of Seymour. At the end of the season, I moved away from the video work with the AFL to concentrate on our business.
I also got involved in managing the 2nd-18s at the Avenel Football Club during this time, and was briefly the part-owner of a racehorse named Raffi, which had 31 starts (2 – wins; 7 – 2nds; 5 – 3rds).
The Hotel was booming, I was enjoying my time with the Avenel Football Club until the demise of my partner at the hotel meant the business had to be sold. So, I packed up and moved back to Bundoora.
It wasn’t long before I was back into the business, this time settling on The Diggers Rest Hotel. A chance to buy back the Mangalore Hotel with my partner Lauren arose after 15 months, which we took advantage of, and a new home we purchased in Avenel. I was once again involved with the Avenel Football club, where I was elected as Vice-president.
I enrolled for the Real Estate Course at Seymour TAFE, and obtained the certificate. But a family decision to return to Melbourne meant we had to sell up. We purchased a home in Sunbury. I briefly worked in Bundoora, and then started working as a courier driver as a sub-contractor. Over the next nine years, I worked with several companies, and finished up at the Australia Post, retiring on the 30 June 2012.
Former AFLUA CEO Peter Howe asked me if I would be interested in writing up stories of our past members, and I was only too pleased to research and collate these articles for the AFLUA website. This occupies most of my time, except for when I am working on my train set, which is a hobby of mine. Recently, I have set myself a challenge of recording the results of Grand Finals throughout Australia and the Umpires who have officiated. So far, 16,400 Grand Finals recorded…
GRAEME’S CAREER GAMES
59 VFL Games (3 not recorded, night games); 7 VFL Emergency; 3 VFL Night Games (rec.); 115 VFL Reserve Grade Games; 1 VFL Res. Grade Semi Final; 2 Emg. Reserve Grade Semi Finals; 140 V.C.F.L. Games; 18 V.C.F.L. Grand Finals; 26 V.C.F.L. Finals; 6 V.C.F.L. Inter-League Games; 51 Practice Games.
RESERVE GRADE LIST
3 VFL Under 19 games; 1 Emg. VFL Under 19 Grand Final to Ian Robinson; 33 Country Appointments; 2 Country Grand Finals; 2 Country Semi Finals.
TOTAL APPOINTMENTS = 475
Article written and photos provided by: AFLUA Life Member Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows