Harry Beitzel, former AFL/VFL broadcaster and umpire, dies at 90

Harry Beitzel (right), with Tommy Lahiff.
Harry Beitzel (right), with Tommy Lahiff.

FORMER football broadcaster Harry Beitzel died on Sunday afternoon at age 90.

A famed media personality, Beitzel was a broadcaster with 3AW, 3AK and ABC. He also umpired 182 VFL games, including the 1955 grand final.

His daughter Kerrie told 3AW that she was lucky to have Beitzel as her father.

"He just loved it. He never stopped coming up with ideas," she said.

In 2014, Beitzel became critically ill, losing sight in one eye as a result of a tumour and suffering a fall. He also had heart complications while in hospital.

But he attended AFL matches even with his health deteriorating and his son Brad said in 2014 that Beitzel was still focused on the game.

Harry Beitzel

Harry Beitzel

"In his inimitable style, dad could pick scenes and patterns, and be a critic of some players. He had not lost that," Brad said in 2014, after he and his father attended Sydney's preliminary final win over North Melbourne.

Having played reserves football for Fitzroy, Beitzel first gained prominence during a 13-year VFL umpiring career. He served two years as the league's umpiring director in the early 1980s.

It was after turning his hand to the media though that Beitzel gained a foothold in the public imagination. For three decades after umpiring his last game in 1960, Beitzel cast a sizeable shadow, with roles across radio, TV and print.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is the international rules concept which continues to this day. It was Beitzel who in 1967 organised to send an Australian team - nicknamed 'the Galahs' - to Ireland to play a series of composite games.

His reputation was tarnished somewhat after he was imprisoned for 18 months in 1994 after pleading guilty to defrauding an elderly couple to the sum of $1.8 million relating to the "soccer pools" lotto game.

He later moved to NSW after marrying his second wife, Karolyn, and has been largely accepted back into the football fold, maintaining contact with former umpiring colleagues, along with the likes of Kevin Sheedy and Kevin Bartlett. Beitzel was inducted into the Australian football hall of fame in 2006.

"He was very, very touched to be a hall of famer, that's for sure," Brad said in 2014.

Beitzel became an ambassador of the Sydney Swans eight years ago, a role of which he was immensely proud.

"He was in tears when he shared with me how much that meant to him," Brad said.

- From The Age