Peter Kelly Retires


Peter Kelly Retires

The words on the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Peter Kelly at the 2021 VFUA Life Members Dinner capture the essence of his vast contribution:

A man whose passion for umpiring has changed the game. This award celebrates his extraordinary contribution and lifetime commitment to the umpiring profession and the association since its inception.

But what of the detail; and details were always part of the way PK conducted business – endless details.
The VFUA was formed in 1992 and began work for the 1993 season as the Victorian State Football League Umpires’ Association – Social Secretary, Peter Kelly.

In the following years PK and his committees organised 5-6 events per year from the UPD to variety nights to the grand final dinner dances. These events were also run for the AFLUA and catered for upwards of 350 attendees at the ball.  Taking on the role of both treasurer and social secretary in 1994 he was instrumental in the change of structure of the association from 1995 when he became VFUA administrator and later executive officer.

As 1996 President Greg Kennedy noted “My greatest recollection of PK during my time as president, was I never once had to worry about anything administrative. The VFUA was only a few years old and it was new ground we were breaking. Peter was instrumental in the formation of this great group”.

As administrator much fell into PK’s purview. Dealing with the VFL administration, usually in the form of Kevin Mitchell could be challenging but PK developed a process to deal with Mitch, his reactions and the sometimes concerning liberties or directions the VFL wanted to take with its umpires.

It was an indication of 2006-07 President, Rob Findlay’s thoughts that “PKs greatest asset is his ability to develop fantastic relationships with people across a broad spectrum. PK’s experience in human resources certainly put him in the box seat for drafting policies and initiatives in advance of the VFL: heat policy, formalised selection policies, extensive contributions to fees and condition arrangements, the biennial VFUA survey and he was also never far away from social events as either having some part in planning or as an enthusiastic participant.

And it was not just the VFUA as an organisation that benefitted from his involvement. Two former presidents both reflected what the association and individuals received:

I loved working with PK and learnt a lot. There was never anything left to chance. He thought of everything and he is the single reason why our Association is in such good order today. Presidents and Executive members come and go. This can have a topsy turvy effect on any Association. However, PK has been the rock. The strategy has never diverted and each year the conditions for umpires in the VFL get better and better. Umpires are respected more and the powers that be at Football Victoria have a greater understanding of who we are and what we want to achieve. Why – because one man has had a single vision. That vision has been to ensure that every umpire has the best possible chance to succeed and that they are well looked after by a professional organisation whilst they are a member (Russell Davidson, 1999)

If PK had not taken the VFUA by the reins who knows where it may have ended up. His passion, dedication and certainly commitment to his roles, the Executive Officer position, show what type of person PK is. He has assisted a lot of people, including myself with their leadership skills and developed some fantastic role models for up and coming umpires. He has done all this whilst most importantly having fun (Adam Wojcik, 2007)

VFUA matters were never far from his mind regardless of location. Richard Mills recruitment as president was one example.

“In my time on the list PK was always present at functions (drink in hand!) mixing with and welcoming everyone that came along. I used to run into PK at any one of the many MCC bar’s on grand final day each year and we would have a chat. One year the conversation turned into an invitation to run for presidency of the association – an invitation I took up. Without having been on the executive before – it was always going to be a big challenge. PK was there right the way though, always a constant support.”

And let us not forget that PK was also a 36-match AFL goal umpire in the early days of the then VSFLUA and had contributed to the AFLUA on the Social Committee in 1989 and as Social Secretary in 1992 before that role was merged with the VSFLUA. He was also Penguin Vic while working at the Department of Tourism, being aptly cast through both stature and likeability.

Also, he contributed to the administration of the Southern Football League umpires (now SFNL) and Southern Umpires Association at various times during his VFUA tenure

Currently working in a part-time role with the AFLUA it’s a pretty full working life following his retirement from the Victorian public service – although they will be noting a large drop in the photocopying and printing costs in the last few years.

Peter Kelly leaves VFUA office having after 29 of outstanding service he has taken the association from infancy to maturity such that it was recognised as the bargaining agent for the new VFL competition incorporating umpires from NSW and Queensland.

He remains as life member, Special Award and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and respected among the association Executive Committees with which he has worked and by the generations of umpires he has served.

“A man whose passion for umpiring has changed the game”

Kevin Charles Mitchell OAM


Former VFL Director of Umpiring and VFUA Life Member Kevin Mitchell was the recipient of a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the recent 2021 Queens Birthday Honours.

Over his 24 years in charge of umpiring in the VFL Mitch, as he was universally known, transformed it on more than one occasion and introduced much of what is taken for granted today. Over the course of his umpiring administrative and coaching career he has influenced hundreds of umpires many of whom have had significant AFL and VFL careers.

Speaking with the AFL in 2014 following his retirement he  noted ““if you stand still and stop looking for improvement you will fall away quickly. I was always challenged by the drive to get better.”

The physical legacy of the Victoria Park training facility which he worked so hard to have built is perhaps the most obvious result of Mitch’s persistence in so many things in life. Negotiating with Collingwood, Yarra Council, builder and the VFL administration he took a decrepit building and made a home for Victorian umpiring. The provision of match day trainers, the regular upgrading of coaching technical equipment to improve performance, the employment on non-umpiring professionals such as dieticians and psychologists were other initiatives that have become the regular part of the modern umpire’s experience at VFL level.

It is that VFL level that has provided the vast majority of AFL field, boundary and goal umpires in the last quarter of a century. Those that have made it to that level recognise Mitch’s influence. It was rarely smooth sailing for anyone but the striving for perfection and the honesty of the feedback built formidable umpires.

Mitch’s contribution to Victorian state level umpiring was recognised by the association with life membership of the VFUA in 2006. Like his coaching the relationship between the Umpiring Department and the association was rocky at times but both recognised they were looking to get the best for the umpires and that was what was important. Harmony was rarely far away.

Mitch’s umpiring credentials were second to none. He began as a boundary umpire in the VFL Reserve Grade in 1962 and was promoted to the VFL following his appointment to the 1967 VFL Reserve Grade Grand Final. The immediacy of his success was remarkable; a final in his first year and then four consecutive VFL grand finals. When he retired from the VFL his career stood at 236 matches including 23 finals and 8 VFL grand finals.

Off the field he contributed to the VFL Umpires’ Association in a significant manner. As trip organiser 1971-76 and Executive Committee member 1971-74 he remains the only boundary umpire to ever ascend to the presidency of the association in 1977. His association honours include life membership, lifetime achievement award, AFLUA Team of the Century and AFLUA Hall of Fame induction.

Prior to his role at the VFL he held various umpiring administration roles: Umpires Advisor Dandenong and District JFL 1980-83, Umpires Advisor Southern Umpires 1984, Assistant Director of Umpiring VFA 1985, Part time Umpire Recruitment and Promotions Officer VFL 1986-88, ull time Umpire Recruitment and Promotions Officer VFL 1989-90. He was recognised in 2000 with an Australian Sport Medal.

Congratulations Mitch on your honour it is well deserved recognition for a life of service to umpiring Australian football at every level.

Cyrus Wong Retires

Cyrus Wong 01

Resilience, determination and persistence are just some of the many values that embody recent VFL Senior Goal Umpire retiree, Cyrus Wong. Cyrus’ 136 VFL Senior Games is an incredible effort spanning over a decade career at the VFL between the posts.

Failing the time trial in 2014 led to Cyrus embarking on a unique and physically demanding journey, that being running every current and defunct Melbourne train, tram and bus routes. This journey for Cyrus later led to him beating the time trial requirements and running those thousands of kilometres demonstrate his determination to overcome his previous challenges both physically and mentally.

I had the pleasure to run alongside Cyrus and former VFL Goal Umpire, Pete Balding in his final section of the public transport network which we will remember for many years to come. To see Cyrus’ face and reaction at the end of this journey was priceless.

I also had the pleasure to umpire alongside Cyrus in his final VFL match, held at what I would call his home away from home, Whitten Oval. Remaining professional and competent all the way to the final siren, it was a humbling experience to be there in person and I was extremely honoured to have had Cyrus choose me for his final game.

All the best for retirement Cyrus and for your future endeavours away from the VFL world.

– James Rizio

Cyrus Wong 03Cyrus Wong 02

Sam Stagg’s 1st AFL Game

SamStagg_1stAFL_800pxSam Stagg – 1st AFL Game

No-one could have anticipated umpiring your first AFL game in an empty stadium, but these are strange times indeed.

Sam Stagg’s career started with the Bendigo Umpires’ Association where he umpired the 2011 Loddon Valley Senior Grand Final and then went on to umpire the 2012 and 2013 Bendigo Football Grand Finals.

These appointments led to Sam moving to the VFL, where he started in 2014.  Living in Bendigo meant that Sam commuted by train from Bendigo to Melbourne twice a week to attend training at Victoria Park, leaving home at 2.30pm and arriving home at 10.15pm.

Sam’s commitment and fitness paid off with him experiencing one of his career highlights in umpiring the 2019 VFL Grand Final as well as being recognised as the VFL’s Boundary Umpire of the Year.  Sam was subsequently appointed to the AFL list and umpired his first AFL game between North Melbourne and St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on Sunday 22 March 2020.

It took Sam a while to get into the game as he and Ian Burrows had none of the play in the first quarter.  His first decision in AFL football occurred in the 2nd quarter with a boundary throw in about 48 metres from goal, as a result of a pretty straight forward spoil over the line.

Sam reflected on there being no crowds for his first game, “Yeah it’s very different. I’ve umpired VFL curtain raisers before at Marvel where there is pretty much no one in the crowd for a half or even Under 18 championship games with no one there, so l had experienced that aspect before.  Probably the last 5 minutes of the game was when you noticed no one was there as North Melbourne came from behind and took the lead and held onto a 2-point win.”

Now that round one is behind him, Sam is like all other AFL umpires and is training alone. He says it is all about being self-motivated and maintaining your fitness so when we do resume l am ready to go.  With this in mind, Sam is trying to keep his training the same or similar throughout the week as if he was in-season with the exception of no games at the weekend.

Sam has enjoyed a number of games leading up to his AFL debut.  His first VFL game, first final, first grand final, then of course his first AFL game. However, if he had to pick one he felt the 2018 Preliminary Final between Williamstown and Box Hill would be his favourite with Box Hill sneaking home by one point.

One of his funnier moments in football was back in Bendigo when he was umpiring a match between Sandhurst and Maryborough at QEO Oval. Sam had made a tough call right in front of the grandstand and a Maryborough player didn’t agree with him and let him know about it.  One of the Sandhurst players who he knew came up and bumped the Maryborough player telling him to “Leave him alone, he’s the best boundary umpire in Bendigo mate, l am sure it’s the right call.”

Sam loves being involved in football and being so close to the action.  With an AFL career ahead of him, there is one thing that is certain in these uncertain times – he will see plenty of action in the years ahead once footy is back on the park.  Congratulations Sam and best wishes for a great career ahead.

A Marathon Effort on a Tennis Court


A Marathon Effort on a Tennis Court

Life Member Russell “Rusty” Davidson

In normal times, Easter Monday was reserved for recovering from family gatherings, eating and drinking too much and plonking oneself in front of the TV for a footy game at the G.

In 2020, school holidays were different with many restrictions in place and families struggling with things to keep their children entertained.  Former VFL umpire and VFUA President Russell Davidson, with 3 children, set them a challenge.  Run a marathon which is a combination of 605 laps of the backyard tennis court in 2 weeks and he’d run a marathon himself.

Suffice to say they didn’t get anywhere near meeting the challenge, so Russell decided to do it himself on Easter Monday.

Had he prepared?  According to Rusty, “Ah no.”  He was planning to run the Melbourne Marathon in October so had been doing a bit of training but certainly nothing that had prepared him for a marathon.

He described the experience of running 605 laps of his tennis court as certainly different. “There wasn’t a lot of change in scenery.”  Rusty set off at 7am and had his kids there for the majority of the time, counting laps, playing loud tunes, running with him and shouting encouragement.

The toughest part was the constant twisting and turning.  Rusty admits his knees, back and hips took a pounding, “A regular run through the streets is generally in a straight line so you can build up a bit of momentum.  No such chance on the tennis court. A few strides and it’s time to turn again.”  He says mentally he was fine and that he changed direction every 50 laps and made sure he walked a lap every time he turned around.

Having no time pressures meant he could take as long as he liked. He was pretty determined so there was no way he wasn’t going to get it done!

Initially he pulled up pretty sore, particularly in the lower back and legs.  However, unlike other marathons he has run, he was back up and running a few days later and felt fine.

file-16This was Rusty’s fifth marathon.  He has run two Melbourne marathons with a PB of 2.50 in 2003, one in Sydney and one as part of the Australian Ironman in 2016.  He admits his backyard marathon was harder than any of his previous marathons although the pain he experienced in the ironman does compare.

He still has his ambitions set on running the Melbourne marathon in October this year, however he thinks it might fall victim to COVID-19 restrictions.  Otherwise, he will be busy umpiring in the APS/AGSV school boy competitions and coaching the VAFA Senior field umpires later this year.

Congratulations Rusty on a ‘marathon’ effort and we wish you continued success in your coaching and running endeavors in the year ahead.


David Flegg AM Receives His Gong

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Government House, Friday 23 September 2019

Former VFL/AFL Goal Umpire, AFLUA Historian & VFUA Statistician David Flegg was presented with an Australian Medal for his services to umpiring by the Hon. Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria at Government House on Friday 20 September 2019.

David’s contribution to the Australian Football League Umpires’ Association (AFLUA), Victorian Football Umpires’ Association (VFUA) and umpiring for 37 years has been profound. Most of his work off-field has been done in an honorary or voluntary capacity – he has donated years of his life to both Associations.  He has done this whilst maintaining full-time employment as a research librarian with a number of government organisations.

But it is not the accumulation of records and researching and recording the history of umpiring that makes David a special person.  It is his passion and genuine care and interest in the tradition and history of umpiring as well as in umpiring and umpires.  He is a mentor to young umpires, a genuine role model to current umpires and respected amongst the umpiring fraternity as one of the all-time contributors to umpiring in Australia.

As can be seen from the umpires’ association positions held and his achievements, David’s contribution to the AFLUA and VFUA and indeed AFL and VFL umpiring in general, has been truly outstanding. A summary of David’s voluntary positions can be viewed by clicking here

On behalf of the VFUA, congratulations David on this great honour in recognition of your valuable contribution over so many years.  May it continue for many years to come.


Order of Australia for Umpiring Legend



It is with great pleasure to announce that David John Flegg has been awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for his services to umpiring at the VFL and AFL level over a period spanning in excess of 35 years. The Award was announced today in the Queen’s Birthday 2019 Honours List.

A summary of David’s voluntary work for both the Australian Football League Umpires’ Association and the Victorian Football Umpires’ Association can be viewed by clicking the link below.

Click to see David’s Achievements


David Flegg

Life Membership for ‘Burgo’

burgess-tristan3 R10For just the 10th time in VFA/VFL history, and 3rd time for a field umpire, a VFUA member will officiate for the 175th time and qualify for automatic VFL Life Membership. In the lead up to this significant milestone, the VFUA sat down with Tristan Burgess to talk about the journey to this point.

VFUA:   You debuted in VFL Seniors in 2007, correct?

Tristan Burgess: It was Williamstown vs Geelong. I umpired with Andrew Mitchell and Brett Ritchie and it was first v second in round 12. I don’t remember much of that game, but my second game was Box Hill v Port Melbourne. I paid a horrendous advantage, back when we had to call advantage, and Box Hill kicked a goal from it. The Port players, who were much taller than me (they still are) gave me nothing but abuse. Deservedly so because it was the last senior game I did that year!

V: Haha! So you’ve now racked up 174 games, including 15 finals…

TB: I thought 14?

V: VFUA stats says 15. 2 Grand Finals in 2012 and 2015, 3 consecutive TAC Grand Finals from 2007 to 09 and 30 AFL games from 2012 to 2014. For the VFUA, you were Track Rep in 2008 and 09, Vice-President in 2010, 11 and again this year, John Russo Trophy in 2011 and Life Member since 2013. Impressive list of achievements. What memories stand out?

TB: When Gold Coast were playing in the VFL, they played in Ballarat. It was less than 5 degrees, raining and at half time, we had hot chocolate to keep warm. Just before the third quarter, when Gold Coast returned to the field, they had no jackets and paused at the top of race and just looked at the conditions and didn’t want to come back out! That was hilarious.

The best game I’ve been involved in was the 2011 Semi-Final between Port Melbourne and Box Hill. It was 128 to 124. Both teams kicked 19 goals, plus we had centre bounces and field bounces back then. Physically, it was a brutal game for us, but it was pure hard finals footy.

V: What is it about umpiring that’s kept you in the game this long?burgess-tristan1

TB: After experiencing the highest level of our game, I feel as though I still had more to give. I wanted to come back and help the next crop and younger generations on their way to potentially making the AFL.

V: How did you get into the world of umpiring?

As a youngster, I played under a former Carlton player as an elite backman. But one night, my cousin was playing for Sandhurst in Maryborough in a night series and the club president asked if I would boundary umpire for some coin. As a 15 year old, any money was like gold. I then joined the Bendigo Umpires during the season as a Boundary in 2000. I umpired as both field and boundary in different games. I was appointed to the 2003 BFL Grand Final as a boundary umpire. In 2004 I made my BFL Senior debut as a field umpire in a game where Mick McGuane was one of the coaches. He wished me well for my career. I umpired 7 BFL games before doing the 2004 BFL Grand Final as a field umpire; the youngest to do so at the time! For the next two years, my folks drove me down to Melbourne for training and games, with some help from the late Anthony Hunter.

V: You started a long time ago – what’s changed in umpiring over your time?

While I was on the Development Squad, the Senior Field ran 2-umpire system still. We used to train in a little room behind the goals at Victoria Park and Kevin Mitchell would show vision using the old VHS technology.

I’ve worn white, orange and green uniforms. I only got to wear white prior to 2005 as a regional boundary umpire for TAC Cup games. Training used to be nothing but running. Now we have skills and match simulation. The time trials used to be 4km and 5x1km efforts with 6 minutes recovery between each k. The time trials used to be held mid-season in the wet.

The track used for the time trials was a 1km loop that was sheltered from the coaches on one side. Troy McCarthy and Ritchie would always take off at the start. T-Mac would cut about 50m off the course and we would just follow. When we did time trials at the athletics track, T-Mac would cut in front of the steeple chase pool to get ahead of the group on the final straight where the coaches would wait at the finish line.

We also used to do the Beep Test on asphalt surfaces at Carey Grammar, and even one year, it was held under the Sherrin Stand!

burgess-tristan3 - CopyV: As one of the older statesman’s in umpiring, you’d be looked up to by the younger umpires. Who did you look up in your younger days?

I looked up to Troy Pannel (when he returned from Sydney) and Rob Findlay. They were the older umpires in the group who were experienced, but they were also just good quality people. They were willing to give time and effort to help others and were respectful when giving feedback. You can see that it’s paid off for them with the AFL careers they are having.

Also guys like Jacob Mollison, Ritchie and Mitchell because we were going through the system together. We all had very different personalities, but together we made a good group of people.

V: Game 175 this week. Footscray v North Melbourne under the roof at Etihad. What does this game mean to you?

It means I’ve achieved so much. It’s a privilege to do one VFL game, but to do 175 is an honour. It can’t be taken for granted when people have missed out in the past. It’s all due to the umpires you run with. It’s not an individual sport; we need our teamamtes. Even though we compete against each other, we all need to have a good day on the field. If one doesn’t, it affects the others. It all comes down to mateship. We’ll be mates with these guys for life.

V: Who would you like to thank from throughout your journey?

My mum and dad, Brendan and leonie. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am. They’ve made so many sacrifices, and not just through my years umpiring, but throughout my whole life. Family are the ones who go through the ups and downs with you. They are the people to thank.

V: From everyone at the VFUA, it’s been a pleasure to have been a part of the journey at some point, and we all hope you have an absolute blast on Saturday as you take the field for the 175th time.

Congratulations, Tristan Burgess!burgess-tristan2 R1

Passing of life member Gary Best

Gary Best (right)

Gary Best (right) with Barry Farrow

The VFUA is saddened to report the passing of life member Gary Best (right, below).

Gary was promoted to the VFL list of goal umpires in 1985 following an outstanding career with Southern Umpires Association.

His 1986 VFL senior debut earned him Heritage No. 207 and over the next decade he umpired 92 VFL/AFL matches including the 1991 AFL Elimination Final. He also officiated in the 1989 and 1993 Ansett Cup Grand Finals, 57 VFL/AFL Reserves, 26 VFL U19s and 6 VFA matches.

One of his off-field occupations was as a caterer and it was in this role that he supported a number of VFUA functions, in particular the grand final balls held at the Malvern Town Hall. Gary became a life member of the VFUA and AFLUA in 1994, his retirement year.

Gary William Best passed away 16 August 2017, aged 68. His outgoing, cheery personality, big smile and bright outlook on life will be missed by all who knew him.

Vale Besty.

Funeral details:
Patterson River Fire Station, 37 McLeod Road, Carrum on FRIDAY (Aug. 25, 2017) at 11.00 a. m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made on the day. A Fireman’s Funeral. A Private Cremation.

Life Members’ Dinner 2017

Sunday evening, 4 June saw the annual gathering of the VFUA life members at the Exchange Hotel Bourke Street, Melbourne. 

As well as the ‘usual suspects’ who attend every year we had the welcome return of Lindsey Hardman who was in Australia for the first time in a while and the delightful addition of Sue Sambrooks, boundary track rep Melissa’s mum. While there were a number of apologies this year Richard Mills please check your calendar more carefully in future – we missed you.

life members butcher

The dinner marked 20 years as life members for Judi Elliott, John Hall and David Flegg but was the first for newly inducted 2016 life member Daniel Butcher. Daniel’s terms as track representative (2012), communications officer (2013), vice-president (2014) and president (2015) indicate his outstanding service to the VFUA through almost the entirety of his time with the VFL and he spoke eloquently about what life membership meant to him.

Equally worthy of the honour a last minute difficulty meant Daniel Pieper was unable to attend and will be presented with his certificate and badge at a future date.

The range of umpiring and football related activities and involvements still undertaken by VFUA life members gives further indication of how much their commitment to the association is an extension of their commitment generally. From trainers, long-serving community umpires and administrators, coaches and observers to even statisticians they continue to give passionately to what they love.

It serves as an excellent example to the current VFUA Executive Committee who were also in attendance and were able to connect with a life members and hopefully take away some of their experiences for consideration. The VFUA has always attracted the best, the brightest and those who most want to make some sort of difference to the umpiring experience and the Life Members’ Dinner is a celebration of those qualities.

Thanks go to David Flegg for his (somewhat laissez-faire) organisation of the night, to Nick Brown for his ‘State of the VFUA address’, the Association for its subsidy of the catering and to all who attended to make a great night!