Our next ‘Where are they Now’ is an umpire who officiated in over 441 Victorian Country Football League games – William John Yendle (Bill).

Bill had a reputation around the bush earning the nickname ‘The Voice’ because he communicated with every player calling them by their first names and nicknames. Bill was also a tremendous ambassador for the AFLUA and for the image of umpiring.

Bill umpired 7 Reserve Grade games, but never got a look in at the big time. During his umpiring years, the list consisted of over 140 field umpires therefore opportunities were few and far between given only 12 umpires were required for seniors and reserves at VFL level. Bill completed 21 years on our list, officiating in 27 VCFL Grand Finals and 63 VCFL Finals and was acknowledged for his services when in 2008 he was inducted into the AFLUA Hall of Fame.

Bill enjoyed the after-game functions almost as much as the games and was always quick to help the night along with a shout or drinks on the bar.

Bill was born on the 4th November 1925 to Victor & Myrtle Yendle at Port Melbourne. At the age of one his mother passed Bill out of the family window to his grandmother and they left with Bill to be brought up by his mother and grandmother which was a real struggle during the depression. He attended the Nott Street State School in Port Melbourne from 1932. In 1938, he was crowned Dux of the school. He then attended the South Melbourne Technical School with the intention of entering a trade for his working career. Things were tough as World War II was in progress, but Bill was lucky enough to obtain a working apprenticeship as a boilermaker for 5 years, completing the course as a qualified tradesman. It was around this time that his father passed away at the age of 41 years.

Bill’s start to umpiring came about because he had no money for a real football. The boys played with a paper football tied up with string. During one of these games Bill disputed another bad decision and was given the whistle with the umpire saying, “let’s see if you can do better.” Bill and Albert Irving then went to ex VFA umpire ‘Basher Barnes’ who taught them how to bounce the ball and instigated training programme. Bill was conscripted into umpiring a grudge match between Bagdad (Garden City) and the Port Melbourne Billiard Hall. This was his initiation into umpiring. Being a social match with no tribunal available it was anything goes with steam coming out of the player’s ears. Bill received one pound for his trouble and had to do this with no boundary umpires. The goal umpires and timekeepers were all biased as well. This was a great education for young Bill as it was sink or swim which was the greatest experience that Bill obtained for umpiring and controlling a match.

After three seasons, Bill applied and was accepted onto the VFL Reserve Grade list in 1948 where the advisor at the time heard of Bill’s experience in the tough Port Melbourne Sunday social matches. He called Bill out at the meeting and told him he would be appointed to the Federal League to clean up a League that had a similar reputation at the time.

Sick of being inside in his employment, Bill ventured out looking for work in the open air so for the next 3 years drove vehicles for a living. 1949 was a big turnaround for Bill as he married the love of his life in Valda at Wesley Church in Lonsdale Street Melbourne. The couple met whilst at school. In the same year he applied for a position as a boilermaker with the railways and was accepted spending the next six and a half years keeping our rolling stock on the rails.

The VFL were so impressed with Bill that after only two years he was promoted onto the VFL Senior list in 1950. His first game was between Warburton Seconds and Seville. In 1951, in only his second year and with 20 games in the bush under his belt, Bill was appointed to his first VFL Reserve Grade game at the Lakeside Oval where South Melbourne 6.10 lost to Collingwood 13.15.

In his second Reserves game Hawthorn 17.15 drew with Geelong 17.15 at Glenferrie Oval in a thrilling game. Unfortunately, the following week Bill had to pull out through injury and was replaced by Alan Nash, whose career was just about to unfold. It took Bill another four years before he was given another opportunity in the Reserves.

In 1955, Bill began employment with the Government Engine Company but after a short time moved to the Standard Vacuum Refinery to a position he held for 5 years.

One of the many humorous situations involving Bill was during a game in 1955, when Bill was appointed to a match in Penguin, Tasmania. The Monday prior to flying to Penguin, Bill had 14 teeth removed and new dentures put in. He asked the dentist how will I blow the whistle? The dentist told Bill to take his bottom teeth out and you should be right. You guessed it, the very first free kick that he paid, the upper dentures fell out so for a few minutes Bill carried them around until a point was scored. He then went down to the Goal umpire and you can well imagine the expression on his face when Bill dropped his denture into his hand and asked the goal umpire to look after them!

His umpiring was progressing well and he was appointed to another three Reserve Grade games then two more in 1956. In 1958, Bill succumbed to an achilles injury and whilst not umpiring, he travelled from Altona to Northcote almost every day to the Umpires’ Physio Bruce Whitehead. This went on for 16 weeks before Bill was given the go ahead to umpire again. It was Bruce who introduced the strapping of ankles, a very common practice today.

Bill’s most embarrassing moment in umpiring came when officiating in the Sunraysia League, Mildura Imperials v. Mildura in 1958 when the centre half back for Mildura, a guy named Roy Burr, disputed one of Bill’s decisions. Heated discussion took place whilst the game went on until Bill decided to put a stop to his antics and told Burr let’s discuss this over a bloody big beer at the Working Man’s Club after the match.

The Ruckman for Imperials overheard their discussion and told ‘The Voice” you’re in trouble now as it turned out that Roy Burr happened to be the Captain of the Salvation Army and didn’t drink or smoke. After the game at the Working Man’s Club, Bill got a tap on the shoulder to find none other than Roy Burr standing in full Salvation Army uniform, with a stack of ‘War Cries’ their weekly magazine under his arm. The place erupted yelling at ‘The Voice’ to buy a copy of the magazine. Bill did better but purchasing the whole bundle.

It was not unusual for umpires to be appointed to double headers, especially in New South Wales. Bill gave an example of a typical weekend when you would leave by train on Friday night for Albury, umpire in the Farrer League on Saturday for 4 quid ($8), stay overnight in Wagga where you received 10/- for a bed and 3/- for a meal. Umpires were then picked up on Sunday morning and transported to their various games in the South West District where they were paid 5 quid ($10). After all that, they would then fly home from Narrandera just in time for work on Monday.

Another story Bill loves to tell happened whilst he was umpiring in the Benella/Tungamah League. Whilst waiting for the cab at the Dookie Pub, the patrons asked Bill to sing so he grabbed the microphone and broke into a song. It wasn’t long before the pennies and half-pennies were being thrown at Bill to stop. This didn’t deter Bill who paused mid-song and told the audience if they wanted him to continue, they’d better throw silver or notes and not dark coloured coins. In the end, twenty-seven and a half pounds lay at his feet, which was a lot of cash in those days. At the end of his act, Bill asked for the Social Secretary of the local club and donated the cash to the club’s end of season trip.

On one occasion the coach of the Melbourne Football Club, Checker Hughes invited several umpires to dinner at the Masonic Club and Bill Yendle was one of the participants. Checker said to the President of the VFLUA, Alan Nash there must have been many funny experiences among you all. He asked for one outstanding tale that could be told. Straight away Alan called Bill up to the microphone and ’The Voice’ proceeded to tell the audience of his experience about a grand final in Ungarie (NSW) which went on for over 35 minutes. Nobody was game enough to ask Bill for the microphone back!

In 1960, Bill was awarded Life Membership of the VFLUA. In 1963, Bill had his best year in umpiring when he umpired four grand finals. He also changed employment and became a sales representative for Murex. This lasted for six years before he moved on to work for Arc Welding Hire. In 1970, Bill changed employment again began working for Lincoln.

In 1970, Bill retired from umpiring. His retirement opened the door to an opportunity for other ventures. Bill was invited to give talks to umpiring bodies throughout the Metropolitan area and then from 1971 to 1978 he was a member of the South East Suburban Football League Tribunal. In 1971, Bill had the chance to take his wife to the football and enjoy the comforts of the MCC members. This lasted only one year as his wife stated that she couldn’t put up with Bill’s antics at the football and never went with him again.

In 1972, Bill was approached by Jack Hamilton to act as an umpire’s observer for the VFL. Bill had to first seek permission from his wife before he took up the role. Upon receiving it, Bill performed the role between 1972 and 1990. When Bill Deller OAM was appointed Director of Umpiring, he invited Bill for a beer one day and offered him the position of Recruitment Officer, a role that required observing up and coming umpires.

Over his 21 years on the list, ‘The Voice’ officiated in 27 VCFL grand finals, an outstanding achievement. Bill also officiated at 7 Inter-League games with most of them double headers as you would umpire one league on the Saturday and then officiate the inter-league game on the Sunday. He also umpired in the Tramways, Railways, University and High School Competitions.

“The Voice” told me the highlight of his umpiring career was being inducted into the AFLUA Hall Of Fame in 2008. In 1989, Bill was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for outstanding service to Umpiring by the VFLUA President in David Howlett.

Having been a sport fanatic participating in football, baseball, cricket and squash, Bill decided to try his hand at golf. As he had no further commitments to football umpiring, he joined the Box Hill Golf Club.

Bill and his wife Valda have travelled with the umpires end of season trips to Hong Kong in 1984, China in 1986 and after his retirement, they moved up to Yarrawonga in 1992. They toured around Australia in 1995. These days his family consists of their daughter Darrel Ann, one granddaughter Nichole and great granddaughter Anneliese. Bill has two sisters Judith from Melbourne and Ann who lives in New South Wales. Bill told me watching football on the television is interesting as he gets so upset that Valda changes the channel. Sounds familiar? Bill stated that he could not have enjoyed his umpiring if it had not been for the diligent work of his wife Valda who would wash his gear, iron his shirts, pack his bag, clean his boots and he thanks Valda for her support. The only thing Bill would do was to sort out his whistle by soaking it overnight to swell the pea to give a louder pitch.

In his retirement Bill now plays golf with the local golf club where he has been a member since 1992 when fellow umpires Ron Brophy and Alan Cole were playing. Bill is one of 6 life members at the club and has won the ‘Player of the Year’ trophy in 2010 and 2014. Our ages range from 60 to 93 years with a warm and close companionship amongst us all. He finds it hard these days to complete 18 holes as he is suffering with back problems, so nine holes is his limit.

I asked Bill to name one thing about himself that most people don’t know, and his response was not having a father for all of my life.

Bill, congratulations on 21 years of great companionship as you have helped so many umpires to become better umpires as well as smarter human beings. Happy Retirement Bill up there in Yarrawonga.

Article written by: AFLUA Life Member, Graeme ‘Whizzer’ Fellows

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