Our Next “Where are they Now” in Kevin Leonard Andrews better known as ‘Mandrake’ in the umpiring circles.

Born on the 10th May 1942 in Richmond’s Mina House to Daniel and Edna Andrews, he was the second of 3 boys. Due to a troubled marriage, Kevin’s parents finally separated in 1952 which resulted in him moving around to 12 different places and attending 10 different schools between 1948 and 1956. Kevin was a homeless kid at age 14, a real challenge for anyone!  In addition, Kevin’s father walked out of his life in 1956 and he never heard from him again for 27 years, until 1983.

While 1952 did not start out too well in Kevin’s’ young life it certainly changed for the better after his Grandmother took him to see John Coleman play on 28th June 1952, when Fitzroy played Essendon at the old Brunswick Street Oval. He fell in love with Footy, and from that day on his life was to change. 

At the age of 12, Kevin played football with the Sunbury under 17s, but only because they were short on numbers.  As his game developed, he was recruited to the Keilor Under 17s where he won the club medal for the best utility player in 1959. A keen Essendon supporter, the winning of the medal was a big thrill for Kevin as it was presented by one of his heroes – Essendon player Hugh Mitchell.  Kevin then progressed to the Coburg Football Club VFA Under 19s and in 1961, they were successful in winning the premiership.

In 1959 Kevin was boarding at the parent’s home of Essendon player Jeff Gamble. Every Friday night, there was a variety show on TV called ‘Sunnyside Up’ and the show used the song of the same name. The song is based on the tune of Johnnie Hamp’s 1929 song ‘Sunny Side Up’ with an increased tempo. Jeff came over to visit his mum and dad one Saturday morning singing the tune. One of the catchy lines of the song is ‘Keep your Sunnyside up, up let the Laughter Shine through’.  Fooling around, instead of singing that line of the song, Jeff changed the words to ‘See the Bombers fly up, up’.  Kevin, on hearing Jeff sing the line, asked Mrs Gamble for a writing pad and he sat down and an hour later he had penned the words to the Bomber’s song.  The original version of the song was recorded in 1972 by the Fable Singers and is still used today.  Kevin was recognised with life membership of the Essendon Football Club in 2014 and is the only person to be awarded life membership of an AFL club and the umpires association, when he was awarded life membership of the VFLUA in 1976.

Kevin worked as a labourer in a factory from age 14 to 16 before becoming a Customs Agent for 11 years. He tried his hand at golf, squash, tennis and cricket.  During this time, whilst attending a game at Windy Hill, Kevin spotted a lovely lady in the crowd and needing a date for the Cricket Club Dinner Dance wandered over and asked for her phone number. He rang her that night and invited Kay, also a keen Essendon supporter, to be his partner at the dance.  During the Barn Dance, where you change partners, a fellow asked Kay who her partner was, she replied Kevin, but she didn’t know his last name.  Today the couple have been married 54 years, have two sons Jeff aged 51 and Rod aged 50 and a granddaughter 8 year old Audrey.

Back to Kevin’s on field exploits.  Kevin realised that he wasn’t good enough for the big step up to VFL football, so Jeff suggested he become an umpire.  Kevin looked at him in amazement, thinking he’d lost his mind, however he followed it up and applied to the VFL Reserve Grade as a field umpire and in 1962 was accepted onto the list.

Kevin is forever thankful to former experienced umpire Bill Terrill for his sage advice and guidance in kickstarting his career.  In 1964, Kevin slept in and missed his taxi at Flinders Street to travel to Shepparton.  The phone rang at 7.45am with VFL Reserves Grade Secretary Frank Leverett asking Kevin if he was available to umpire.  Kevin replied he was and was told to head to Pentridge to meet the cab.  Traveling with him was Bill who told Kevin to forget what had happened, and to focus on his game. Bill also told Kevin that when he got home that night, he should write a letter to Frank Leverett to apologise for missing the cab, and to make sure he posted it that night.  The following Thursday at the Postal Institute Hall where umpires held their meetings and collected their appointments, Frank addressed the group and stated that four umpires had missed their appointments and he wanted to see the four of them in the kitchen after the meeting. Kevin was spared given he’d sent a letter of apology.  The wonderful thing about this story is that had Bill Terrill not had the wisdom, experience, thoughtfulness and kindness to help a young umpire in a time of need, Kevin would have had a black mark against his name and maybe would never have had the career that he experienced, which saw him between 1964 and 1986 umpire in 7 grand finals at the MCG on that one day in September. 

Kevin took to umpiring and based on good observer reports, he quickly moved through the grades and was appointed to the Under 19s, after only a handful of games. In 1964, Kevin was appointed to the Under 19 Grand Final where Melbourne 12.16 defeated Collingwood 11.8.  With this appointment Kevin was promoted onto the senior list for season 1965.  His first game on the senior list saw him appointed to the Gippsland League for a game between Lindenow and Stratford.

Early in season 1966 after only 17 VCFL games, Kevin was appointed to his first VFL Reserve game where Footscray 15.14 d Fitzroy 10.10 and with good feedback he held his spot until the end of the season. It wasn’t until round 10 in 1967 before Kevin was given another opportunity, which only lasted one game, after which he spent the rest of the season in the bush.

Over the next three season Kevin could only manage 7 VFL Reserve games and completely missed 1971 due to business commitments. Returning in 1972 Kevin found it hard to break into the Reserves until the last four games of the season.  During the next three seasons, his city appointments ended, and Kevin spent a lot of time doing country games.  Kevin also served on the VFLUA Executive Committee for three years.  At the end of 1975, Kevin decided to retire as a field umpire and returned to the Reserve Grade as a goal umpire.

His record as a field umpire on the Senior list is as follows;-  VCFL  148; VFL Reserves 21; VFL Reserve Grand Final 1;  VCFL Finals 26; VCFL Grand Finals 22 (Leagues such as MNL, Picola, Mornington, Tallangatta & Northern Dist. Omeo, Ovens & Murray, Latrobe Valley, Mid Murray, Waranga Nth East, North Central, South West), VCFL Inter-league 5, (Tyrell v. Mallee; North Dist. v. North Central; Kowree Narac. v Mis Sth East; Tallangatta v. Ovens & King; Ballarat v. Ovens & Murray).

Kevin spent four years on the Reserve Grade list as a goal umpire before he was promoted back onto the senior list in 1979.  His first game he was partnered with Brian Pratt at Victoria Park where Collingwood 14-15 lost to Essendon 19-19.  During this time, goal umpires were rotated back to the Reserve Grade until you became established in the group. 

In 1985 Kevin was having an excellent year in the goals, so much so that he was rewarded with the VFL Grand Final appointment partnered with Andrew Sinclair with Essendon 26.14 defeating Hawthorn 14.8.  In 1986 Kevin umpired almost all of the season in the seniors and was rewarded with his second Grand Final.  Partnered with Bob Gilham, Hawthorn 16-14 defeated Carlton 9-14.  The Grand Final Crew travelled to Tokyo for an exhibition match at the end of the season. Whilst there, field umpires Peter Cameron and John Russo talked Kevin into doing his Donald Duck impersonation to a group of young Japanese students.  Pandemonium broke out as they all broke ranks from their lines to hear Donald Duck talk. The teachers could not get them back into line, much to the enjoyment of the two field umpires.

One highlight of Kevin’s long career included the first semi-final at the MCG when Melbourne made the finals for the first time in a long time.  He recalls the roar of the crowd when Robbie Flower goaled during the match putting Melbourne further ahead in a game they easily won. 

In 1988 Kevin retired and he partnered with Ray Fargie for the Richmond v North Melbourne game at the MCG for his last senior game.  All in all, Kevin umpired 114 senior games in the goals from 1979 to 1988.

After his retirement, Kevin took up the role of Goal Umpires’ Advisor with the Riddell and District Football League in 1991.  This lasted only one year as Kevin went back to field umpiring at the age of 50 following his successful completion of the Melbourne Marathon in 1992. He completed two further years blowing the whistle, whilst also helping out with the junior umpires.

In 2016, Kevin was honoured at the AFL Premiership Players’ Club stamp launch where each year the club committee selects 20 premiership players, coaches and umpires to feature on Australian postage stamps.           

Kevin loves peoples’ company who are naturally funny and can make others laugh. He himself does a good impersonation at talking like Donald Duck and at the umpire’s picnic would entertain the kids for hours. He can also tickle the ivories and says he aims to get back taking lessons again to play his much loved piano.

Friendships were formed following the 1986 Grand Final visit to Japan which led to many guests from Japan staying at Kevin’s home and Kevin and his wife have attended three weddings in Japan since 1995.

Kevin has travelled to many parts of the world including USA, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, China, some parts of the Middle East, Egypt, New Zealand and Fiji.  In 1972, during an end of season trip with umpires and their wives, the entourage got caught up in Hurricane Bebe during which 13 people lost their lives. Kevin has experienced many good times including landing by helicopter on a glacier, sky diving by parachute from a plane, a dog sled ride over the frozen wasteland in Canada, flying over the Antarctica at a low level, umpiring two VFL Grand Finals and travelling to many different parts of the world meeting many great people along the way.

Kevin tells me he has many, kind and wonderful people to thank, none more than Jeff Gamble, who he says was the finest man he has ever known, “I have never loved, admired or respected any man like I did Jeff Gamble. I used to think he was one in a million but he was better than that he was one of a kind”. Jeff arranged for him to board at his parent’s home and organised Kevin’s 21st birthday at his home.  Kevin named his eldest son after Jeff.  Mrs Jean Gamble was an angel in Kevin’s life because she took on a kid with some rough edges and taught him about life with an emphasis on manners.

Such was her importance in his life he attended her birthday for 44 consecutive years up until she passed away in 1995.  He also acknowledged all the many people who supported him when he was younger and helped him gravitate towards footy, especially umpiring.  He is particularly grateful to have had such a wonderful life, surrounded by friends and colleagues who helped steer him along the way when he needed it the most.  Kevin feels genuinely lucky in that regard.

The last thing of note about the Gamble family is that Jeff has a younger sister named June who is the mother of Kate Blanchett, the Australian Academy Award Winning Actress.

Good luck in the future Kevin and thank you for sharing your life’s journey.  Happy gardening on your 5 acres in Sunbury.

Graeme ‘Whizzer’ Fellows

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