The Victorian State Football League Umpires’ Association came into existence on 28 May 1992 as the result of a vote of the Victorian based AFL umpires.
The VSFLUA elected its first office bearers in November that year and from that time has diverged further and further from its parent AFLUA until both organisations deal with separate issues, members and exist in different football environments.
The primary reason for the formation of the VSFLUA was that with the AFLUA becoming a national body with a national outlook it would not be in a position to deal with the needs of state league umpires. In addition the formation of a state-based association bought Victoria in line with the other states.
Initially the VSFLUA and AFLUA shared the same president (John Russo) and secretary (Peter Bunworth) but in their second season the VSFLUA Executive Committee stood separately and was dealing with state based affairs. Only the secretary sharing a role in the AFLUA.
Many of these affairs came from the Victorian Football Association in which VSFLUA members umpired and which was replacing the country leagues as a feeder to the AFL. Members also umpired in the Victorian State Football League, the successor in name of the AFL Reserves competition, and the under-18 TAC Cup.
In 1993 and 1994 the association had its first negotiations with the VSFL over fees and conditions. It also instituted a survey to monitor police action at matches. A forerunner of today’s Quality Assurance Project.
Initially membership of both the VSFLUA was compulsory for all Victorian AFLUA members. AFLUA members received little for their dues and from 1995 the VSFLUA offered associate membership which meant that they were no longer compelled to join both associations as full members. So began the slow trickle of members into either one association or the other depending on the list to which you were attached. A change in Commonwealth employment law in 1996 outlawed compulsory union membership giving umpires the option of not joining the association. Since that time VFUA membership has hovered in the 95-98% range.
A major change was the re-naming of the association to the Victorian Football Umpires Association and the adoption of the motto ‘Umpires for the future’. With the future of the VFA and the VSFL constantly under review the Executive Committee felt a neutral name was more appropriate that constantly changing names to match the leagues.
The new motto clearly set the agenda for the association as the breeding ground for the AFL’s future umpires.
Organisationally the initial roles of treasurer and secretary were combined to create the position of administrator which was later was renamed Executive Officer.
While for the most part relations between the association and the VFL were cordial until 2014, recent negotiations of the Fees and Conditions Agreements have proved more difficult as has the enforcement of the conditions laid out im them. Changes to the umpiring environment since 2015 including multiple AFL pathways, a change from casual to part-time employment status, more AFL-listed umpires officiating in VFL competitions and the introduction of successful VFLW and NAB Girls competitions have proven challenging for successive VFUA administrations. The 2019 incorporation of the VFL Umpiring Department into the AFL organisation provided both opportunities and challenges the results of which are yet to be seen.
Since its inception the VFUA has been the social organiser for umpiring, initially for both associations until the AFLUA took responsibility for its own functions. Events such as Wedding of the Year, Bay Cruise, theatre nights, ‘Gentleman’s night’ and the Variety Night were notable along with long standing favourites the Trots Night $1000 draw and golf days.
As years have passed, and with more and more demands on members time, this social side has diminished during the season. Nevertheless functions at or after the VFL grand final and the annual ball sent the season off with a bang and created many memories for those involved – and still do.
Recognition of members’ efforts has always been important and the association awards a number of trophies for success and commitment. It has always kept an account of its members’ achievements and published them regularly in print via the annual report and, until the mid-2010s the scurrilous Man in white and electronically on the VFUA web-site. The association has had an active web site since 1998.
The strength of the VFUA is its members and those members are making the history of the association.