HIS birth certificate reads Noel Joseph Layton Pattison but to most people on the Border he is simply known as "Banjo". And if you have played footy over the past four decades there is a fair chance you would have been umpired by Banjo on the odd occasion. The 77-year-old sat down during the week to reflect on his career with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE.
BRENT GODDE: I heard when you were away on your honeymoon you may have been a victim of a prank where there was sheep involved. True or false?
BANJO PATTISON: Yeah, it's a true story. I was working on the railway at the time and was living in the double-storey house diagonally opposite the Gerogery hotel. I got married on January 9, 1971 and my rugby league mates decided to put 12 sheep in my house, apparently to keep them protected. They were in there for four days, so you could imagine the mess that I came home to. The house had wooden floorboards so all the sheep urine pooled in the grooves of the floorboards. Walla farmer Alan Odewahn was the mastermind behind the prank and Barry McMillan was also involved. We lived in that house for a number of years and could never get rid of the smell of the sheep urine, no matter how hard we tried.
BG: Tell us a bit about your football career?
BP: I started out playing for Culcairn when I was 13. I played a handful of senior games for Culcairn as a 17-year-old before being asked to have a run for Albury. I played 160 games for the Tigers. I played under Jack Jones, Ken Bennett and Fred Goldsmith. I seemed to get very slow, very quickly and I couldn't really keep up with the pace of the O&M. So I went back out to the bush with Culcairn again. I was lucky I did because I won the medal for best on ground in the grand final at Yerong Creek in the old Farrer league days.
BG: How did you get involved in umpiring?
BP: A great mate of mine, Peter Smith, got me to go down and train with the umpires one night and it all sort of went from there.
BG: Do you remember the first game you umpired?
BP: Yeah, it was a practice match between Culcairn and Barnawartha. I was under the impression that the umpire was meant to keep up with the ball. After the game I was that knackered that I vowed I wouldn't ever umpire again. But I got conned into sticking at it and the first official game I umpired was between Yarrawonga and Corowa-Rutherglen thirds. There was a scrimmage in the goal square so I blew the whistle for a ball-up. I bounced the ball and it was a bad bounce and went through for a behind. I said "all clear" and all the players were telling me "you can't do that." I said "I just did and the rules are mine today." I later found out the players were right and I should have recalled the ball and bounced it again.
BG: You umpired more than 1600 matches. How many players did you report in your career?
BP: I remember early on in my career I reported a player for intentionally striking. The tribunal was at Corowa and started at 7.30pm. I went down there with Roger Lescun. It finished at 11.42pm. The bloke I reported was "Psycho" Johnstone from Wahgunyah. It got to 11.30pm and the tribunal chairman decided to ask some questions. The player that got hit was at the tribunal to give evidence and still had a black eye as well as a nasty gash on the side of his head. The tribunal chairman asked Mr Johnson if he was guilty of striking. His reply was "As you can see, I didn't miss him did I?" In my honest opinion I thought he deserved six-weeks. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the tribunal chairman said "for being honest, we are only going to give you a week." I thought to myself then and there what a bloody waste of time. I was fuming really because I knew I had to get up early the next morning for work. By the time I got home is was 12.42am. It might be coincidence or it might not be but I reckon I umpired more than 1500 matches after that and never reported another single player. Some players would no doubt say I still don't know the rules either.
BG: Who do you consider the best player you have seen locally that didn't go on and play VFL/AFL?
BP: Culcairn's Harry Gardiner was the best. He was just a freak to watch and stood the test of time and retired after playing well over 500 matches. I think he won at least three league medals and I know there were VFL clubs chasing him at the time. He went down to Footscray for a brief period but didn't like the city and returned back home.
BG: Your good mate "Boola" Mannering passed away in March. Would it be fair to say he was one of the biggest characters you could meet?
BP: I miss "Boola" greatly. You get attached to people and "Boola" was one of the biggest entertainers you could ever hope to meet. He had a unique approach to umpiring but was quite a talented umpire when he put his mind to it. I don't know why but for some reason people always used to get us mixed up and I would have been called "Boola" hundreds of times throughout my career and I don't know why.
BG: Who would you consider the players who were the biggest gobs on sticks when you were umpiring?
BP: There has been quite a few but for some reason I remember a Mr Smedley from Kiewa-Sandy Creek whose kids were playing at the club. This particular day they were playing Mitta United and "Boola" and I were walking out to umpire and as we were walking through the gate Mr Smedley said "Terrific, we have got the two blind mice today." We hadn't even started the game.
BG: There is no doubt you could write a book about your time in umpiring. How about you give us five of your favourite stories from your umpiring days?
BP: I remember I was umpiring at Corryong one day with Tony Lade and it rained and it rained and it rained. Just when we thought the conditions couldn't get any worse, the sewerage pipe broke in the middle of the ground. So there was literally you know what everywhere. We finished the game and were obviously looking forward to a hot shower. But the showers were also out of action. Fuming we walked out to the car with our gear, opened the boot and threw our gear in the boot. You wouldn't believe it though, I've locked the keys in the boot. So we had to walk down to the Corryong pub and John Collins was there. Thankfully he helped us break into the boot and we could finally head home.
BG: That's a classic.
BP: It gets better. Another time at Corryong it rained again, it rained again and it rained again. I was with Terry Holden and we were on our way home and just got out of Corryong and the headlights on the car went out. So we were standing there on the side of the road waiting for some help and a chap that I happened to know had been fishing over at Bermagui drove past and stopped to help. But there was a small problem in that he had just done the brakes on his car. I don't know why but we decided between us that he would tow us back to Albury. So he had the headlights and we had the brakes, you have got no idea the speeds we got up to on the way home. I don't know how we made it home in one piece and looking back that was one of the more dangerous and stupid things that I have been involved with.
BG: You're on fire Banjo, what else have you got.
BP: As you know I used to drive the taxis. One Saturday I worked to 5am and I was meant to umpire the Rennie seconds at noon. I had a quick nap and got to the game a bit late. Anyway I was umpiring the match and during the last quarter the Rennie president yells out from the sidelines "Banjo you were late getting here, you have been late giving decisions, your the sort of bloke that would be late for your own funeral."
BG: Keep going, you are on a roll.
BP: I was umpiring Jindera one day against Osborne. At half-time I said to one of the timekeepers that I had a horse running in Melbourne today in the last race. Do us a favour and listen to the race and just give me the thumbs up or down if it wins. I didn't have the best of memory back then. It was only half-way through the last-quarter and the timekeeper, his name was Harmer, yelled out Banjo and was waving his hands at me. I thought to myself the siren must be playing up and that's the end of the game. So I blew the whistle to signal the end of the match and everybody started walking off. Harmer come running up to me and said "Hang on, you can't do that." And I said "do what?" He said "I was signalling to you that your horse did no good, not that it was the end of the game." I said "you are not going to get them back on the ground now, let's go have a beer."
BG: Speaking of beer, is it true back in the days when footy clubs had beer tickets you used to carry a reel of every colour beer ticket and enjoy a few "free" beers after every match?
BP: I was hoping to keep that a secret but I may as well come clean. In the good old days you used to buy tickets for beers as you walked into the club rooms. So I just used to find out what colour tickets they were and head out to my car and grab whatever colour they were using. I didn't mind "shouting" either with my free tickets and a lot of people got the impression I was a lot more generous than I actually was. I didn't discriminate either. The umpires back then used to have a few beers on a Sunday and also used the beer tickets. So some weekends I was getting free beer Saturday and Sunday. Honestly I'd hate to think how many free beers I had but that went on for years and years.
BG: What else have you got for us?
BP: I remember one day umpiring Beechworth against Chiltern. There was no love lost between the two clubs and they always used to be physical encounters. Jock Lappin and Matty "Skinny" Lappin were also playing that day. Anyway the ball got kicked out of the ground and I was waiting for somebody to go and get it. All of a sudden the back pocket from Beechworth runs up to me from the other end of the ground and says to me "I'll go get it for you." We all stood there waiting and the Beechworth captain comes up to me and says "you better go and get another ball, he won't come back with it." I said "What's going on?" The captain said "He is one of the prison inmates and he told me he was going to escape today." He wasn't lying, we didn't see the player for the rest of the match or the ball for that matter.
BG: OK Banjo, you have got two more.
BP: I was umpiring at Rand one day in the seconds and you guessed it, it was raining again. The ball got kicked outside the ground and the water was above ankle deep. Nobody was keen to get the ball and I knew sure as hell I wasn't going to get it. So I said to one of the players "If you go grab the footy, I will give you a free kick at the next contest." He said, "you have got rules of your own, no wonder you are umpiring the seconds." I said, "go and get it otherwise if I have to get it, I'm going to send you off for being undisciplined." He wouldn't get it, so the at the next contest I sent him off for the rest of the match.
BG: Last one.
BP: Another time at Tumut the ball got kicked out of the ground into the creek and the footy was gone. They didn't have a spare footy so we played with a rugby ball for the rest of the match.
BG: OK, I can see you have got one more up your sleeve.
BP: I remember we went to Walla one Sunday for its cash draw. First prize was $1000 which is probably the equivalent to $10,000 these days. I was with Pat Adams who used to coach Walla and Henty, Bill Box and Jim Stockton. Anyway we had quite a few beers and they were about to hold the draw which involved drawing one name out of the barrel, with the winner receiving the $1000 first prize. Jim Stockton was asked to draw the name out. He drew out a ticket and yelled out Pat Adams and "innocently" dropped the ticket back into the barrel without showing anyone else. There was a bit of controversy after the draw but Pat Adams left with the cash.
BG: Who do you rate as the best umpires you have seen locally?
BP: Ross Castles and Jake Mollison are the best. Robert Bartholomew is another that I rate highly.
BG: What did you like most about umpiring?
BP: Just the camaraderie and as long as you didn't get too serious and had some fun. The cash wasn't too bad either at the time.
BG: You were also a taxi driver for a fair while. Any good stories from those days?
BP: Not really but it was surprising the things you would find in the taxi after a shift. It was unbelievable the amount of wallets, rings and all sort of things you would find.
BG: What did you like about being a taxi driver?
BP: I think you need to have a bit of a personality and that's why the job suited me so much. It always amazed me though you could be real nice to someone and get nothing. Then you could be nasty to someone and not say much to them and they would give you a tip. I could never work that one out.
BG: What did you hate most about taxi driving?
BP: Getting up at 4am to go to work.
BG: One of your proudest moments is when you got to carry the Olympic torch up Monument Hill?
BP: It was and I've still got the torch. It was a terrific day and it was an honour to be chosen to carry the torch.
BG: You haven't been in the best of health lately and have been spending a bit of time in hospital?
BP: I've got a bit of trouble with my left leg but I haven't got anything that will do me today or tomorrow. It's just unfortunate that I can't walk and I'm in a wheelchair. So if there is anyone queuing up to get money from bets or whatever, tell them I'm not likely to kick the bucket anytime soon.
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