BY NATHAN DOLE
A CENTRAL umpiring trio which has a tally of 785 AFL senior matches, six grand finals and 46 finals will be in charge of the senior footy clash at Raywood this Saturday.
John Harvey, Steve McBurney and John Russo will umpire the Bendigo Bank Loddon Valley FNL senior clash between Calivil United and Maiden Gully YCW Eagles.
Sponsorship from Mark Prince Eyecare Optometrist for the Bendigo Umpires Association has played a key part in the umpiring greats making their way to Raywood.
There is a special connection that John Harvey has to Raywood which for many years was the home of the Northern United Football Club.
“My dad, Stewart played with Raywood in the 1930s and was a triple premiership player,” Harvey said.
“Our family moved to Raywood from Ireland in 1859, so there’s a strong emotional attachment to Raywood.”
Harvey said the mateship in umpiring was incredibly important, whether it be AFL, VFL, Loddon Valley, or junior footy.
“It’s great to have Mark Prince supporting the umpires.
Prince umpired 59 AFL matches between 1993 and ’97.
“I have known Mark for 30 years. The friendships you have through football, whether it be as umpires, players, coaches, officials, or supporters are so important.”
Most experienced of Saturday’s central umpiring team at Raywood will be McBurney who achieved an incredible tally of 401 matches between 1995 and 2013.
McBurney umpired the AFL grand finals of 2002, ’03, ’07 and ’09.
He also racked up 29 finals matches.
John Russo’s tally of 221 matches between 1982 and 1995 includes the grand finals of ’86 and ’91, and 11 finals.
Harvey is looking forward to umpiring with McBurney and Russo once again.
“Mark, Steve, John Russo and I have been mates for almost 40 years.
“We did a lot of umpiring together in the AFL.”
Harvey started umpiring with the VFA in the mid 1980s.
He officiated in the 1988 grand final and two years later marked his first AFL match.
A stint of 163 matches in the big league ran from 1990 until 2001.
Harvey umpired six finals.
“Every final was memorable, the classic was the ’99 preliminary final when Carlton beat Essendon by a point,” Harvey said.
Although his time in the big league is long gone, Harvey still plays a key role in co-ordinating umpires for schoolboy football.
“We have quite a few ex-AFL umpires who are actively involved.”
Harvey said the pace of today’s AFL matches made it incredibly challenging for all umpires.
“The pace of the game has meant it was necessary to have four central umpires.”
In terms of whether the centre bounce to start a quarter and after goals stays or not, Harvey backs the tradition.
“It’s part of the fabric of the game and been so long for a long time.
These days Harvey spends a lot of time between Echuca and Raywood.
“Being part of a passionate and dedicated group of volunteers at the Raywood Recreation Reserve has been really fulfilling.
“We work hard to improve this wonderful community facility with the help of local and state government.
“Recently we obtained new netball and tennis courts which are lit by state of the art LED lights.”
Raywood will always be the spiritual home of the mighty Swallows and for John Harvey and family, a special place.