The 19th Man



It takes a special type of person to take on the role of reserves umpire. When I retired from playing, I tried umpiring a few times, but I soon decided that I had better things to do with my Saturday mornings than being abused by former teammates, and coaches from my own club. It just was not for me.


Anyone with even only the slightest interest in local sports clubs would be aware that capturing and retaining volunteers is the most difficult and fraught of tasks. The roles which require filling are numerous, and vary in their degrees of time-consumption. One the most onerous of voluntary roles is that of the reserve-grade umpire, a job which every club must fill due to the dearth of umpires across all competitions. It is an inglorious task which requires the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. And because a moderate level of fitness is required, many are automatically eliminated from partaking, meaning umpiring candidates can prove to be thin on the ground.


However, there is a club on the other side of town (which will remain nameless) for which the issue of securing a reserves umpire never raises its head. This club has a fellow named Forbsey*, who has been umpiring 2’s footy for the best part of thirty years. And I would be prepared to wager that in all those years he has not paid many more than thirty free-kicks to opposition teams. In total. For you see, Forbsey is an umpire more one-eyed than Cyclops, and more biased than a Murdoch newspaper. With Forbsey and his whistle in hand, his club truly had 19 men on the field.


If you took a moment to consider Forbsey and ponder if, when donning his white shirt and shorts prior to a game commencing, he purposely made the pre-match decision to free-kick his way to glory, or whether his bias was subliminal, you would have your answer after five minutes of watching him in action. His decision-making (for want of an uglier description) could be so preposterous that observers would spontaneously burst into fits of disbelieving laughter. Abuse from spectators? Threats to his physical well-being post-match? These were all grist to the mill for Forbsey; mere water off a duck’s back. Insults would only result in his decision-making becoming more vindictive.


There was an occasion when one of our senior players, watching from the boundary fence, protested at the absurdity of a non-decision. Forbsey promptly blew his whistle and paid a free-kick against the protestor, even though he was not even involved in the match. There was no limit to Forbsey’s prejudices. The reserves players from his club accepted their good fortune without any hint of embarrassment or shame. How great it must have been to play a game of footy knowing that one of the umpires would not penalize you for even the most egregious of infringements. But Forbsey’s complete lack of partiality often had a detrimental effect on the other officiating umpire, who would lose all sense of fairness in vain attempts to square the ledger. Like Lucifer himself, Forbsey could turn good men bad.


He would never stay for post-match drinks, perhaps sensing that one day an opposition player or spectator might finally make good with their threats of bodily harm. In fact, legend has it that, at a post-season competition awards night, he was set upon by a group of drunken opposition players intent on evening up the score with some bare-knuckled retribution.


If nothing else, one must admire Forbsey’s longevity, for as recently as two weeks ago he was spotted plying his trade out east, shuffling around the centre square, doling out free-kicks to his team, and ignoring the most blatant of infringements perpetrated upon the opposition. If nothing else, it appears that his club does not yet have to confront the thorny issue of searching for a volunteer reserves umpire.



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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    Good one, Smokie!

    I suppose comparable things can occasionally happen on the cricket field, too, in such umpiring contexts as lbw and run out decisions, and outfields not being mowed before the opposition team bats on the second weekend of the match.

  2. Great work, Smoke. Will find out his identity at today’s lunch. Couldn’t possibly be a Roy Boy!

  3. Jack Trevorrow says

    One vote………….Forbesy

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Ripper Smokie!

    1. I have noticed a lot of hard arse ex-players take up reserves umpiring… and are almost always great at it! These blokes I blued with until we were blue, seemed to be tough enough to handle the abuse.
    2. Time and again, now I am twos, I tell my opponent, “Bush footy reserves, 2 out of three kicks shit, yet everybody expects perfect AFL standard umpires.” Sure a lot of them are no good at it, but if we were good, we’d be playing Ones.
    3. Forbsey sounds like a c…

    Keep up the good work, mate.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    I’m always reluctant to criticise any club volunteer, especially as most are doing it for free, but in this case Forbsey sounds like he deserves your words. Might have known a cricket umpire or two in the past who were almost in Forbsey’s class if you copped them when playing against their former teams. As always, very entertaining Smokie.

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