By Jarryd McGuane
After giving away football as a player after the 1969 season, Neville Gardner embarked on an umpiring journey that would lead to 812 games officiated over 45 years. He started umpiring in the Eastern Suburbs Churches Football Association before the league merged into the Southern Football League in 1993.
In an interview with Neville, he said that when he finished playing football he never really considered umpiring until an umpire he knew suggested it.
“Bluey was an umpire and worked Saturday nights at the milk bar near where we lived in South Camberwell at the time and asked if I’m not playing anymore maybe I should try umpiring,” Gardner said.
“I went down to a training in February 1970 for some fitness along with my track and field at the time, and then I had a form in my hand.”
Back when Neville started, all matches were officiated by a sole umpire employed by the league and all boundary and goal umpires were club volunteers.
“I spent at least 360 games of my career as a single umpire so it meant a lot more running and it was tougher for positioning,” Gardner said.
This also raised some issues in officiating between the umpires and biased club volunteers, but also if a fight would break out. “Nowadays if a fight breaks out, the second umpire can ball up and get the game going again. Back then I would have to stop the game completely until I get it under control”.
He also found the game different now as the need to send players off the ground for discipline reasons. In his later years as an umpire, he became a mentor for young umpires. “It became more of a team atmosphere now with the extra umpires. I have loved and valued the opportunity to mentor the younger guys through my experiences”.
Gardner credited his fitness as his major attribute that made it possible to umpire for as long as he did. He started his football life with Box Hill Baptist Pioneers, that is now known Whitehorse Pioneers in the EFL, as a senior footballer. During his time as a player, he played in five grand finals and won four of them.
The self-diagnosed fitness fanatic also competes in marathons and track and field, he will be completing his 55th
Melbourne Marathon later this year
At the end of 2015 Gardner decided that due to some circumstances in his life meant that umpiring just didn’t fit as part of his life anymore. “Mainly because my wife has not been in good health and not as quite as mobile, so she needs me around more”.
Despite the reason why Neville hung up the whistle, his love for umpiring is still there and even holds out hope for one more opportunity to do a proper send off. “I’d love to have one final send-off game, with a big hurrah and say goodbye to everyone properly”.