Football Victoria is saddened to hear of the passing of Life Member and Football Australia Hall of Fame inductee, Donato 'Don' Di Fabrizio OAM.
Don Di Fabrizio was born in November 1933 in the Abruzzo region of Italy and at the age of 20 migrated to Australia, settling in Geelong for six months in 1954 where he worked as a riveter, rigger and boilermaker. Di Fabrizio moved to Morwell in 1955 and over the next six decades, would become a figure synonymous with the Morwell and football community.
Di Fabrizio established a construction business with his brothers in the Latrobe Valley in 1963. His brother John was elected president of the Italian Australian Social Club of Gippsland in 1969, and the following year, Don’s son Steven joined the Under 10's team of the Morwell Falcons Soccer Club.
Di Fabrizio recalled how his life as a football administrator began in his book, My Years with the Falcons. As a parent he was invited to the club’s general meeting, “the next thing I knew, I was voted into the job of president.” Di Fabrizio was modest in his own assessment of his skills, “when I was appointed president I didn’t have a clue about running a club, I wasn’t voted president by choice”.
He would serve in that position for the next 23 years.
Di Fabrizio guided Morwell Falcons from the Latrobe Valley Soccer League (Championship winners in 1971 and 1973), to the Victorian Soccer Federation (VSF) in 1974, where they claimed the Provisional League in their debut season, repeating the feat again in 1975. The club was promoted in 1976 and 1977, and again in 1979 and 1980.
Di Fabrizio’s ambitious vision for Morwell Falcons saw them admitted to the Victorian State League as part of a league restructure in 1982. They achieved the ultimate success in becoming champions of the state in 1984 and again in 1989, with Bobby McLachlan as Head Coach, and Di Fabrizio constantly at the helm.
Di Fabrizio’s relentless drive eventually led to national representation and Morwell Falcons were ultimately admitted into the National Soccer League (NSL) in 1993, where they would make one finals appearance in 1996 and remain until their untimely demise in 2000.
Among his personal honours, Don Di Fabrizio was recognised as the Victorian Soccer Personality of the Year in the club’s State League Championship season in 1989. He had already served on the VSF’s State League Management Committee from 1982 and was a Member of the VSF Board where he also served as Treasurer. He was honoured with Life Membership of the VSF in 1992 and became an Australian Soccer Federation (ASF) Commissioner in 1995, playing a pivotal role in restructuring the NSL and the development of Australian senior and youth representative teams.
He was responsible for bringing together the Australian referees into a single body, assisting in reconciling the men’s and women’s football organisations into a singular body, promoting junior development and accrediting and incorporating players agents in the aftermath of the Stewart Report.
A driving force behind the institution of a Football Australia Hall of Fame, he served on the Hall of Fame nominations committee from 1997 (as Chairman) until 2008, where he was ultimately inducted into the Hall of Fame for his outstanding service to the game. He was also inducted into the Gippsland Soccer League Hall of Fame in 2012.
He received a knighthood from the Italian Republic in 1995 and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1996 for his service to the steel construction industry and to football. He was named Churchill’s citizen of the year in 2013 and the grandstand at Latrobe City Stadium bears his name.
An ambitious, innovative and proud football activist, Don Di Fabrizio leaves a lasting legacy in Victorian football. He passed away peacefully at the Alfred Hospital on 20 January 2022, aged 88.
The FV Board of Directors, Executive and staff send our sincere condolences to the Di Fabrizio family.
The Churchill & District News published a wonderful four part series on the life of Don Di Fabrizio in 2013, written by Leo Billington. It is replicated in full below.