With the coming together of the Umpiring Associations’ Life Members for social functions, Victorian Football League/Australian Football League, VFL Reserve Grade, Victorian Football Association, and hopefully the VFL Cadet Squad, I thought it would be appropriate that my 36th ‘Where Are They Now?’ article cover a stalwart from the Victorian Football Association umpiring in William Declan ‘Squeaky’ Torney.

Bill Torney at AFL Umpires’ training in 2023 (Image supplied by Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows).

Now Bill, as he is known, officiated at five VFA Grand Finals, one Div. 1 and four Div. 2. For the Division One Grand Final in 1972 (Oakleigh 25.17 d. Dandenong 18.15), two umpires Bill Torney and Phil Hayes were appointed, and the Board Member would advise the lucky one who was going to umpire one hour before the start of the game. Phil was the lucky one to be appointed. The 1972 Div. 2 – Geelong West 14.16 d. Caulfield 14.10, the 1977 Div. 2 – Mordialloc 19.19 d. Yarraville 14.11, two umpires were appointed – Bob Flanagan and Bill Torney. After coming back from meeting the players and in this case the Chairman failed to advise, and with 10 minutes to go, Bob Flanagan asked the Chairman Norm Friske, who was about to leave the change rooms, about who was to umpire the game. Bill was the lucky one appointed. This was the final season for the one umpire system. The 1980 Div. 2 match – Brunswick 20.27 d. Yarraville 10.10 – a two-umpire situation, and Bill partnered with Maurie Stabb, and the 1981 Div. 2 match – Camberwell 15.16 d. Waverley 11.8 – he partnered with Frank Vergona. 

Bill also officiated at four VFA Reserve Grade Grand Finals, as well as many semi-final matches, totalling 263 games over 21 years before his retirement when Bill was appointed Assistant Advisor with the VFA In 1968, the Bass Valley F.L. was acquired by the VFA where Bill was appointed to the first Grand Final officiated by the VFA Previously, the VFL umpired the League. His last game with the VFA was the Panton Hill F.L. Grand Final, where Mernda 13.10 d. Hurstbridge 9.18 at the Whittlesea Show Grounds.

Then after one season as Assistant Advisor, Bill was recruited by AFL Umpiring C.E.O. Bill Deller OAM to officiate as a Senior Observer for the AFL games – a position he held for 10 years. As the AFL became more national, his position became redundant. Bill was asked if would continue helping the younger umpires on the VFL Cadet Squad – a position he held for 10 years.

Born at the Vaucluse Hospital Coburg, on 18 October 1943, to John Henry and Jean Torney, Bill was one of six children in the family – with a brother and three sisters still living.

In 1949, Bill attended St Paul’s Primary School Coburg, then onto Marist Brothers before moving to St Joseph’s CBC North Melbourne. He graduated to Abbotsford Career Technical Centre, and then studied one year at R.M.I.T. University.

In 1960, Bill applied for a position with London Insurance as an Insurance Loss Assessor, when in 1990 they were taken over by Suncorp Insurance. This was Bill’s only occupation until his retirement, where he worked in a solicitors for 12 months.

During the summer months, Bill played Cricket with Fitzroy in the District competition – playing in the Thirds. Bill, a fast bowler, emerged with his best performance 4/50. Later, he moved across to play with Coburg in the Sub-District Competition playing with the Club XI, where former VFA umpire Graeme Marcy’s father Arthur Marcy was the coach.

Bill played football with East Preston YCW in 1958 and then played Basketball with the club. This is where his coaching career started, being appointed Head Coach of the U/17’s girls basketball team. They played in the State Champion contest. In 1960, Bill moved on to play football with Thornbury YCW, and then tried out with Coburg in the VFA but considered himself to be an ordinary football player making up the numbers, so much so that he retired and took up Basketball umpiring.

Having caught the bug of officiating, Bill applied to the VFL Development Umpiring squad in which he made the reserve list and  was requested to try again next season. In the try outs, Bill came across a young fellow called Alan ‘Froggy’ Thompson who went on to bigger and better things. After missing the VFL Squad, Bill tried out with the Victorian Football Association Umpiring in 1961, gaining a spot on the field umpires list. Moving quickly through the ranks, Bill received his first Senior appointment in 1963.         

During the 1977 season, the VFA ran a Centenary Cup knock out competition. Bill was appointed to the Round One game between Caulfield and Preston at the Preston Oval. Scores were level at full-time, play was allowed to continue until the next score occurred. It seemed to go on forever until Caulfield scored a behind to win the match. Bill’s next game in the knockout competition was the 1st Semi-Final between Port Melb. 20.17 d. Prahran 7.9 at the Lakeside Oval.

In 1978, the VFA decided to install the two-umpire system into their games one week before the finals. For the umpires to become accustomed to the system, the umpiring list had a practice match with Ric Casey and Bill Torney officiating as umpires. During this match, play was stopped on many occasions so that umpires could ask questions on the system. The following week both Ric and Bill were appointed to the 2nd Division 1st Semi-Final.

In 1979, a Camberwell Vice-Captain was reported for striking Bill when he brushed the arm of Bill as he passed. He was found guilty and suspended for 12 months. A writ was taken out against the VFA concerning the suspension but the player lost the case. Also during the 1979 Division 2 last home and away game, Bill was appointed to the Sunshine v. Yarraville game where Bill reported a player for indecently exposing himself to the umpire. Bill paid a 15m penalty when suddenly the player on the mark lowered his shorts and mooned umpire Torney. At the tribunal, the player was suspended for ten weeks but more was to come. A teammate of the suspended player was outside the tribunal and abused and threatened umpire Torney as he left the VFA House. That player was brought before the Commission a week later and suspended for the entire 1980 season. Not happy with the result, the player picked up an ashtray and flicked it at the chairman Mr Fred Allen who was hit on the hand. The VFA Honorary Commissioners then deliberated for five minutes and suspended the player for life.

The highlight of Bill’s career would be umpiring VFA Division 1 & 2 Grand Finals, becoming a Life Member in 1975 of the now defunct VFA. Bill claims that the best umpire he witnessed was Graeme Marcy and it was a pleasure to be appointed with Graeme on many occasions.

Asked Bill if he played a musical instrument – the answer was NO, but he is a keen philatelist; in other words, he collect stamps. He also collects basketball cards and loves to read all books. I mentioned to Bill what he thought of the style of football played these days. His answer was a different game to when he umpired, and sometimes can be boring.

He has travelled to France, America, England and Tasmania, and these days after some health scares, is walking 3kms a day hoping to increase the kilometres over time.

Today, Bill is employed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as a tour guide, showing members of the public the workings at the MCG, a position he loves, and is also attending University with part-time courses. Not bad for a 79 year old. He recently attended the AFLUA umpires’ training session to pick up on the finer points of the four-umpire system.

Best wishes for the future Bill, was great to catch up.


# Article written by AFLUA Life Member Graeme ‘Wizzer’ Fellows.

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