2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Murray Bird

There were some handy types in the 1974 Coorparoo under 12’s grand final side. Two-time Grogan Medallist Brendan McMullen, regular senior players David Fagg, Ross McKinnon, Mal Thompson and Warren Bobbermein, and leading Queensland umpire Martin Hopp and two others who played across half forward and went on to make their own very special mark in Queensland football.

A man named Jason Dunstall played on a flank, and 269 games, four premierships and 1254 goals later is a Queensland Football Hall of Fame legend and an AFL Hall of Famer who will be a Legend. At centre half forward, good enough to keep Dunstall on the flank, was Murray Bird, Queensland’s first AFL umpire.

While the Dunstall career is known to all in the game, the contribution of Bird is similarly special across the code in Queensland football. First as an umpire, but later as an umpires’ coach, a varied and wide-reaching football administrator, sports manager, university lecturer, technological innovator and author, and more.

While his contribution to football across all areas has been enormous, it was as an umpire that he made a critical and historical mark on the game. He took the first tentative steps down a path since followed by who have officiated at AFL/AFLW level as a field, boundary and goal umpire. He was umpires’ coach when Katrina Pressley became the AFL’s first female goal umpire and was instrumental in recruiting her long-serving successor Chelsea Roffey.

The Bird umpiring journey was ignited by long-time Brisbane junior league secretary Frank Sargent, who suggested the former Wynnum and Coorparoo junior take up the whistle.  “I never regretted it for one minute,” said Bird, who had played alongside Dunstall, McMullen and Co. from under 7s. “If you’re not the best player in the world like most of us umpiring is a great way to stay involved.”

He began with the Under 8’s at Wynnum in 1978 and graduated to then QAFL ranks in 1983, starting with a Kedron-Southport game at Owen Park. After officiating at the 1985 Teal Cup (Under 17) carnival, where Gavin Crosisca, later a 246-game Collingwood premiership player, led the Queensland side, he set his sights higher.

In 1987 he moved to Melbourne to work under ex-AFL grand final umpire Glenn James, and officiated at VFL Under 19 and Country level before returning to Queensland in 1988. Two years later he did his first AFL senior game alongside Rowan Sawers, who went on to become the AFL’s first 400-game field umpire and Umpires Coach.

It was Brisbane v Richmond, Round 1 1990 at Carrara – Norm Dare’s first game as Bears coach, Scott McIvor’s 100th AFL game, and the debut of 273-game Brisbane triple premiership player Shaun Hart and Richmond 244-gamer turned CEO Brendon Gale. The Bears won by 59 points.

He went on to umpire 43 senior games from 1990-94, enjoying some unforgettable moments and meeting some unforgettable characters. Like in 1993 when he umpired a Carlton-Melbourne game in which Greg Williams collected 43 possessions. He didn’t receive a Brownlow Medal vote and lost by one to Gavin Wanganeen. Twenty years on it’s not something Bird can talk publicly about, but reading between the lines it’s fair to assume senior umpire John Russo, a 222-gamer who did two grand finals, may possibly have over-ruled his young partner in protest at Williams’ demeanour.

There was Richard Champion’s first game in Queensland in 1991, when, in a practice match at Carrara, he reported the Bears’ South Australian recruit for abusive language. They flew to Melbourne for a tribunal hearing and Champion was fined $500.

The pair became good mates but Champion and ex-Lions teammate Justin Leppitsch were up the list for their “free advice”. Other characters? “Justin Madden was fantastic to umpire because he was always so jovial. Daryl Bourke (Morningside) and Glen Middlemiss (Southport) were interesting characters, too,” he recalled.

Bird umpired four AFLQ grand finals and six interstate games, including the Division Two carnival in Tasmanian in 1989 and Queensland’s first State of Origin win over Victoria at the Gabba in 1991, which he did with 300-gamer Gavin Dore. He controlled 173 QAFL games from 1982-95 and was the State League Umpires’ Coach in 1995-96.

Away from umpiring, he’d joined the AFLQ administration in 1989 after completing an Arts Degree at the University of Queensland and worked first in junior/umpire development from 1989-92. He was Junior Programs Coordinator (1993-95), State Affiliates Manager (1996-98), State Umpiring Manager (1998-2001) and State League Football Manager (2002-05).

He was a 2005 founding partner with Michael Voss and Alastair Lynch, among others, of Velocity Sports, a leading Australian sports and events management company, and as General Manager drove company’s major sponsorship of the AFLQ State League from 2006.

He is credited by then ALFQ General Manager Richard Griffiths for the ‘spark’ that became the Queensland Team of the Century, in which Dunstall was named vice-captain to Voss. Likewise, the  ensuing Queensland Hall of Fame, in which his one-time flanker was an inaugural legend.

 A 20-year member of the Hall of Fame Committee, Bird also did market research for the AFL ahead of the birth of the Gold Coast SUNS, and sat on the Redland Bombers Board from 2006-08.

From 2013-14 he took on the challenging role of General Manager – AFL Papua New Guinea, living in a “different” lifestyle in Port Moresby, and after finishing a Masters Degree in Sports Management with first-class honours at Griffith University, he was a tutor and lecturer in Sports Planning & Development, Sports Information, Sports Development Systems from 2002-2005.

In 2007 he developed the ‘Interchanger’ app designed to revolutionise match day management and coaching for community football, allowing clubs to manage player rotations and statistics just like the AFL. He launched ‘Status Sport’ in 2012, and since 2020 he has been Chief Product Officer at “Rookie Me”, the AFL’s official coaching technology partner.

He temporarily switched codes, serving as General Manager – Competitions, Clubs and Community with Football Queensland in 2019-20, but was always an AFL man and has published two books on Queensland football history –  “Athenians and Red Invincibles – The Origins of Football in Queensland”, and “More of the Kangaroo – 150 years of Australian Football in Queensland – 1866 to 2016”, written with historian Greg Parker. The books were voluntary projects done over 15 long years in research and writing. A labour of love!

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