Our next “Where are they now?” is a guy that has tried everything with some success. Neil McLean has been a footballer, cricketer, field umpire, goal umpire, Goal Umpires’ Coach and Observer, Tribunal member & Co-Chairman of the Diamond Valley Football League. Neil was also one of the first members of the video score replay team at AFL matches and was recently appointed captain of the Team of the Decade 1978-1988 at the Bundoora United Cricket Club.

Neil also was a teacher for 17 years before being appointed as a principal at Bell Primary in 1977, with further appointments at Watsonia, Reservoir and Mill Park Primary Schools.  In addition, Neil has been heavily involved in primary school sport for over 30 years in a management and coaching capacity.

Born on 1 December 1941 at St Elmo Private Hospital in Brunswick to Harry and Lois McLean (6 days prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbour).  They lived in Brunswick for five years before moving to Traralgon with his younger sister Gillian (who later married AFLUA stalwart Don Casey). Neil attended Brunswick East Primary School for one year before Neil’s father was promoted with APM, hence the move to Traralgon.  Neil then attended Grey Street Primary School for three years before the family moved back to Northcote due to work commitments. Neil then attended Westgarth Primary School and Preston East Primary School before graduating to Northcote High School.  Frim 1958 to 1960 and again in 1964, Neil attended the Melbourne Teachers College.  

During his time at Northcote High School, Neil was invited to play cricket with the Sub District team Preston where his cricketing career blossomed.  As a 14-year old, Neil was playing open age with the fourths team.  In the grand final, Neil top scored with 16 not out, on what he described as ‘the worst pitch ever known’.  As the only batsman to reach double figures, Preston won by 7 wickets on the second day.  Neil’s performance did not go unnoticed and he was invited to represent the Fitzroy Cricket Club in the Dowling Shield.

In 1958, Neil was introduced to umpiring when Wal Andrews, a senior list VFL umpire, asked him to officiate at one of the Teacher College games.  Neil enjoyed the experience so much he attended the VFL summer school for umpires which was run by Harry Clayton at the Richmond Technical School.  Neil was accepted on the list as a Field and Boundary umpire.  In 1960, Neil officiated at a field umpire only and the 30 games he umpired in mid-week games with the Teacher’s College gave Neil some great grounding and experience. Due to studies with his employment, Neil resigned from the Reserve Grade and umpired one year in the Preston and District Junior Football Association before returning to the Reserve Grade in 1962.

It was during this time that Neil met his wife Kathleen at the Regent Presbyterian Youth Group and his first date was to the State Match between Victoria and South Australia at the MCG.  One week later, Neil graduated from the Teacher’s College.  Neil and Kathleen married in May 1964 before moving to Bundoora.

In the same year, Neil was promoted onto the VFL senior list of umpires. His first game was Kooweerup v Garfield in the West Gippsland League.  In 1967, whilst umpiring in Bendigo, Neil was hampered with a knee injury and was limping. During the 4th quarter, the crowd roared when a spectator ran onto the ground and offered Neil a crutch. Unfortunately, Neil’s knee gave way during the 3rd quarter of a game in Dimboola and he was stretchered off the ground.  He required a knee operation and was operated on in September 1967.

After a stint with the Preston Sub District Cricket Club, Neil returned to Regent Pres. A Grade where it turned out to be a real family affair.  He shared a century partnership with his father (aged 50) who made a half century whilst Neil made a century in his first match on returning to the club.  His mum and wife worked on serving the afternoon tea, his sister was the scorer and this brother-in-law Don Casey also played in the game.  

During a semi-final in 1967/68, Neil was still recovering from his knee operation in September.  He returned in January as a batsman only but with the team trailing by 30 runs on the first innings, the opposition was 2 / 30 and looking likely winners. Neil decided to bite the bullet and not having bowled a ball that season, he bowled perfectly and captured 8 wickets for 10 runs off 5 overs to help his team go on and win the premiership.  In 1980, at the age of 40, Neil won the competition batting average for the A grade as an opening batsman. The award was presented by Bill Lawry, who started his cricketing career in the same competition.  Neil played in 5 grand finals winning 3, which isn’t a bad effort.

In 1969, whilst umpiring a game at Mooroopna, Neil decided that his time may be up, and he umpired his last field umpiring appointment the following week in a game between Avenel and Alexandra.  Neil stated that he was never the same runner after his knee operation. 

One of the many interesting highlights for Neil was during a game between Lang Lang and the Wonthaggi Rovrs in 1966. With it well into time-on in the last quarter, WR led by 3 points.  A forward for Lang Lang marked 20 meters out but the siren was broken, so it couldn’t be rung before the mark was paid.  Lang Lang kicked a goal which put them in front.  As Neil returned to the centre, he was confronted by two frustrated timekeepers who were ringing a cow bell.  Neil hadn’t heard the bell due the noise from the crowd and car horns blaring. Needless to say, amongst the confusion Neil required an escort off the ground.

Another highlight occurred in the mid-1980s when at Moorabbin Oval, Neil reported Stuart Lowe for shaking a goal post, the first such report in 64 years. Lowe was fined $1,000.

With the birth of their first child in 1968, a boy David and another expected in early 1970, Neil decided to retire so he could concentrate on his family and his teaching career.  On study leave to qualify as Teacher-librarian in 1964 Neil subsequently taught at Moorabbin P.S 1965-66, Reservoir West P.S. 1967-68 & 1972, Broadmeadows East P.S. 1969-71 and Coburg P.S. 1973-76 before being appointed Principal at Bell P.S in West Preston in 1977. Neil also had stints as Principal at Watsonia 1979-82, Reservoir 1983-87, Mill Park 1988 until he retired in 1994.

Some of the students that have experienced Neil’s knowledge were John Scholes who went onto play cricket & captain Victoria. John also played VFL football with North Melbourne, but it was the advice that Neil gave John to play his cricket at Carlton where he holds the record number of games played with the club.  A More ‘notorious’ student was “Christopher Dale Flannery” who became known as ‘Mr Rent-a-Kill’ Australia’s best known hit man. At school he was an excellent swimmer winning the metropolitan back stroke event.

Neil and Kathleen have three children, 1968 a boy David, 1970 a girl Alison and 1973 a Girl Christine. Four Grand Children in Bailey (16), Skyla (12), Ellie (15) and Brooke (13). Unfortunately, Neil lost his wife Kathleen in 2008 and his second child Alison in 2010.

In 1979, a friend involved with the Old Paradians in the VFUA, asked Neil if he could help out with goal umpiring during a practice match. That’s where it all started in the goals.  Neil umpired three years in the Amateurs including several grand finals in different divisions.  In 1982, he applied to the VFL to become a goal umpire and was accepted.  After two years, he was promoted to the list and umpired his first senior game  (St Kilda v Richmond) at Moorabbin with Brian Pratt.

Neil states the highlight of his goal umpiring career was the 1989 Reserve Grade Grand Final.  After that match he was appointed to Foster’s Cup games in Miami and London with Leigh Keen.

In 1990, Neil’s retired as a Goal Umpire but in 1992 joined Brian Pratt and Richard Auhl in a coaching role at the AFL for 4 years. In 1996, he coached the AFL Victorian based goal umpires until the training base was moved to Waverley. From 2002 until 2007 Neil was appointed as Goal Umpires Observer and in 2008 appointed AFL Goal Umpires Manager, a position he held for 7 years.

Neil’s stats over 43 years of involvement at the VFL/AFL are as follows:  97 VCFL Field Ump. Games, 48 R/Grade/U.19 Goal Ump. 1 QF, 44 Reserve G G/U 3 Finals 1 GF, 7 VFA Goal and 32 AFL/VFL Goal Ump.

Travel has played a big part in Neil’s life when in 1984 he went to a conference in Thailand to encourage countries to participate in Victoria’s Pacific School Games to celebrate Victoria’s 150th year. In 1990 He went to Miami and London with the AFL and 4 times visited Chile to visit his daughter who was living there. He also spent 5 weeks in the UK in 2015 and regularly visits Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast.

Neil has been heavily involved in Primary School Sports for 30 years and has been an Executive member of the Victorian Primary Schools Sports Association for 30 years as well.  He has also been Treasurer and was made a Life Member. 

In 1984, Neil was Director of the Pacific Schools Games and was responsible for 2,000 children aged 10-18 who came to Melbourne for 10 days to participate in track and field, swimming and diving events.  He did this whilst also performing his principal and teacher duties. From 1994 to 2006, Neil researched and wrote the book – “The First 100 Years” for the centenary of the VPSSA.

In 1986 Neil was appointed a member and was co-Chairman of the Diamond Valley Football League Tribunal (now the Northern League), a position he held until 2002.  He is a life member of that body as well.

Surprisingly, when asked one thing that most people don’t know about him and he responded that he can’t swim. He has never been able to and is terrified of deep water. He says this may have emanated from his first year at high school when he was thrown into the deep end at the Northcote Pool and had to be pulled out.

Congratulations on a very interesting Career Neil – Good Luck for the future.

Article written by: AFLUA Life Member: Graeme “Whizzer” Fellows


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