Since its inauguration in 1935, the Geelong Football Umpires League (GFUL), initially called the Geelong & District Football Umpires League, has come a long way to become one of the largest and most progressive umpiring groups in Australia, second only to the AFL. The GFUL is the oldest surviving umpiring organisation in country Victoria, overcoming severe obstacles as a depression, one World War, disputes between affiliated leagues, and a disastrous fire which destroyed not only the Clubrooms, but all historical records kept prior to the date of the fire in 1969.
Before the formation of the GFUL, umpiring consisted of volunteers who would umpire local matches and the only reward they received was when the hat was passed around after the match. The umpires would select which games they would umpire between themselves – just imagine the chaos and mayhem that would ensue from that sort of system if it were in place today. The major disadvantage in this system was that the umpires received no formal lectures or instruction on the rules and umpiring techniques. The only formal advice to umpires came from the VFL, to which only a very few elite Geelong umpires, were members. These Geelong based VFL members were often sent by the VFL, to remote venues as far afield from Geelong as Broken Hill and Burnie in Tasmania. Several of the Geelong VFL umpires, met with some other prominent sportsmen of the time, to discuss the foundation of an Umpiring League in Geelong which would greatly assist in improving the standard of both umpiring and local football by imposing uniformity in umpiring decisions, thus the GFUL was formed in 1935.
The first year of the League saw 30 members and 6 Football Leagues affiliate with the new umpiring group. The first Football Leagues to affiliate with the Geelong Umpires were, Elliot Cup, Geelong & District, Polworth League, Polworth League Seconds, Otway Association and Colac & District League. From these humble beginnings, the League continued to grow, gaining more competitions such as Barwon Social, Morrisons, Coragamite Farmers, Geelong & District U/18’s, Public Schools League, Western Plains, Bacchus Marsh, Port Fairy and Hamden League Seconds. In 1936, the Geelong Umpires had achieved a significantly high enough status for the VFL to allow Geelong Boundary and Goal Umpires to officiate at VFL Seconds games, a practice which continued until 1988.
The League went into recess during the war years 1941 – 1945, when the only games umpired by Geelong umpires were social games. Having no Clubrooms or meeting place, meetings were held at the rear of Richardsons Fruit Market using fruit boxes as seats. The League was reformed in 1946 with meetings now held in the Victorian Railways Institute, where umpires had graduated from sitting on fruit boxes to proper wooden chairs. In 1950, meetings were held in the Trades Hall until 1960, after which they were held in the League’s own recently completed clubrooms in Kardinia Park.
With League membership increasing, it was decided in 1946, to levy umpires fees to help finance the League’s activities, things have not changed much since then as umpires are still paying a levy to finance local umpiring. In 1950, the League voted to use rented cars or taxi’s to transport umpires to country matches due to the unreliability and unpredictability of train service schedules, which made it extremely difficult to get to and from games on time. In 1952, umpires were given approval to use their own cars as transport to country games.
In 1956, the then Committee passed a motion to investigate the possibility of the GFUL building its own Clubrooms, the first umpiring body in the State to do so. Building commenced using volunteer labour in 1958 on land made available by the Council, in Kardinia Park, next to the Rugby Ground which the umpires had been using for training. The rooms were completed in 1960 and meetings were transferred from the Trades Hall to the new facility. By the end of 1968, membership of the League had grown to 180.
Disaster struck in 1969 when fire completely destroyed the building and all early records of the League dating back to 1935. The Geelong Football Club offered the use of changerooms and the Centenary Hall for meetings whilst the damaged building was cleared and a replacement built. The new rooms in which the GFUL are currently housed, were completed in 1971 with proceeds from the insurance claim and a further levy on umpires fees to pay for its construction.
So, from those very humble beginnings back in 1935, the GFUL has grown to become the dominant umpiring group in country Victoria responsible for providing umpires to the Geelong Football League, Bellarine Football League, Geelong & District Football League and the Geelong Junior Football League Professionally administered with a current membership in excess of 260, it is a role model for other country umpiring groups. The GFUL today is as totally dedicated to the promotion of umpiring and the well being of its members, as it has been since 1935.