Almanac Footy: “If you don’t mind umpire, that was only 14.5 metres!!’

Needing a change of mood in the car I pressed 5 for the sports station. Bob and Andy were being regaled by a Tigers supporter about the umpiring in the game against the Eagles. Oscar Allen had got a free kick she didn’t think could possibly have been there, and the pass from Liam Ryan to Josh Kennedy for the winning goal couldn’t have gone more than 9 metres, the aggrieved fan maintained. She had been a Richmond member for 40 years and …where is that turn-off to Kyneton? …something about never been worse.


Andy pointed out that the Fox Sports people had measured the kick and it had travelled 14.5 metres, which although not the 15 required was comfortably within the margin of error. “And what about the front on contact to Kennedy earlier in the quarter?” I found myself thinking. “And the blatant black and gold throws which had been missed?” And…


And I stopped and laughed at myself. What was I doing? Lapsing into parochial umpire bashing was what. Let it go. The game was over. The four points had been taken out of the AFL chest and allocated. Mistakes had been made both ways, as they always do. Short of the matter being taken to the AFL Protests and Disputes Tribunal, there is nothing that anyone could do or say which would change the outcome. And that hadn’t happened since “siren-gate” in 2006, which was more about the siren than the umpire not calling time. Before that, no result had been altered in a VFL or AFL game since 1900 when St Kilda successfully protested an after the siren point, resulting in it being awarded its first ever VFL win. Collingwood famously didn’t protest Kerry Good’s mark and goal in the 1980 night grand final.


As far as I can tell there has never been a protest over a result said to be due to umpiring errors. And I mean if Brisbane were prepared to allow the absence of a kick to Zac Bailey after he tackled Mark Blicavs in the goal square with 20 seconds to go when they were 1 point behind, to pass in the first round, even after the AFL admitted the error, then it would be hard to argue that any other umpire error in any other game could be or could have been more decisive.


Later I found myself reflecting on why we allow ourselves to continue to rage against decisions we remember most aggrieved us from the games our team lost. I supposed it was to assuage the disappointment we felt upon losing, especially in grand finals or where the result was close and we could call in aid the spear of injustice done to us, as a way to avoid the obvious and unpalatable conclusions that it was the many more mistakes made by our heroes which caused the loss, and that the better team probably won.


Collingwood diehards still make a point that Wayne Harmes was in the Four n Twenty concession when he tapped the ball back to Ken Sheldon during the 1979 grand final.


After the Eagles won the 2018 premiership, Collingwood fans were still venting into the new year about the block that Willie Rioli had created to prevent Brayden Maynard spoiling the mark Dom Sheed took to kick the goal that put West Coast ahead with 2 minutes to go.


But I knew the feeling. In the famous Leo Barry mark in the dying seconds of the 2005 grand final, Tadgh Kenneally had grabbed Ashley Sampi (2004 mark of the year winner) by the front of his guernsey and pulled him out of the marking contest. There are a number of photos which show the incident pretty conclusively from different angles. The umps make a big point of saying if the jumper is pulled they will award the free kick. The Eagles lost by 4 points.



And don’t get me started on how Barry Hall – who kicked 2 goals – was even playing, after punching ‘Goose’ Maguire in the stomach in the prelim, being offered a one week penalty, and overturning the ban by arguing that the ball was ‘in play’ when he and Goose were standing idle, 50 metres away from the contest. Maybe 49.5 metres.


See, there I go again. A loss in a grand final will do that to you.


What eventually cooled my jets was that I never once heard any of the Eagles players or coaches – who had a whole lot more skin in the game than me – mention either issue as an excuse, as a way out of their agony and despair or as bitter recrimination. They graciously accepted the loss, congratulated the Swans on an epic win, avoided the issues whenever raised by others and focussed their entire energy on having another shot at the title. Which, of course, they did, 12 months later, against the same opponent, with a different result.


And I checked recently and in the official AFL records it still shows that Carlton were premiers in 1979, the Swans won the 2005 pennant, and the Eagles took the one they made available in 2018. There were no asterisks taking you to a footnote mentioning Sampi or Hall or Maynard. Or the pie-stand.


And I checked that the Eagles had managed to keep the 4 points for the win against Richmond last Sunday, however appallingly unjust that might be.


The laws of the game make clear that infringements are to be awarded based upon the opinion of the umpire. So to overturn the decision in the P & D hearing you would need to show that the umpire awarded the kick (or failed to do so) contrary to his or her opinion. Good luck with that one.


Please stop me if you ever hear me calling out particular umpiring decisions after we lose a game. Just remind me that the better team probably won.



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  1. Anonymous says

    John, don’t get me started!

    At least St Kilda successfully protested the after siren final point in 1900, giving them their 1st ever win, as you pointed out.

    St Kilda diehard fans have been irate since 2009 at the goal umpire, who signalled a goal to Tom Hawkins in the 2009 Grand Final when the ball clearly hit the goal post. St Kilda lost that game by a very small margin. They are also irate at the Mathew Scarlett toepoke in the last few m8nutes of the Grand Final but the umpires can’t be blamed for that.

    Other St Kilda diehards blame the umpire itself for not actually checking that the football was faulty when the ball bounced the wrong way for a point for Stephen Milne in the dying minutes of the 2010 Drawn Grand Final when he was racing in to kick what would have been a certain goal. In hindsight, they now blame the AFL for not having extra time in that 2010 Drawn Grand Final because they could have won the Grand Final. At the time, they thought they could won the Grand Final replay the next week anyway.

    That’s what happens as you say when teams lose close Grand Finals. In St Kilda’s case, the supporters are hoping that they will still at least make, but preferably win another Grand Final in their lifetimes.

  2. Australian rules is surely one of the most difficult sports in the world to officiate.

    But the umpiring this year has, generally, been sub-standard.

  3. Anonymous says

    John, I should have also mentioned that St Kilda supporters, like West Coast supporters, were also irate at what their former player, Barry Hall, did to Matt Maguire in that 2005 Preliminary Final, because Matt Maguire was doing a good job on Barry Hall before that incident and then with Maguire down back in play, Hall roamed free in the forward 50, taking a mark and kicking a goal from the ensuing play. St Kilda had control of the game before that incident and I dare say would have played West Coast in the Grand Final had that incident not happened and either St Kilda or West Coast would have added to their trophy cabinet in the Grand Final the following week.

    At least for diehard West Coast fans, they have won 2 further flags in 2006 and 2018 to go with their flags in 1992 and 1994. Four flags so far for West Coast in 34 seasons of being in the AFL since 1987, is very good at a ratio of nearly 1 flag per 9 seasons, compared to Carlton and Essendon with 16 flags each from starting in the VFL in 1897, is a ratio of around 1 flag per 8 seasons and Hawthorn with 13 flags since entering the VFL in 1925, is a ratio of around 1 flag per 7 or 8 seasons.

    Getting back to the Matt Maguire and Barry Hall incident, diehard St Kilda fans are blaming the non officiating umpires that were on the field at the time of the incident for not picking up Hall’s punch to the stomach of umpire behind play, therefore disallowing that goal. Barry Hall has since said he should not have been allowed to have played the 2005 Grand Final.

  4. Anonymous says

    Sorry, I meant to type in the last paragraph of my last comment about Hall punching the stomach of Maguire behind play, not punching the stomach of the umpire behind the play.

    I dare say Hall would have really been suspended for the 2005 Grand Final, and possibly a very long time, if he had punched the umpire’s stomach!

  5. Well said JG. I reckon free kicks only confer an advantage inside the 50 Zone – where they permit or prevent a shot on goal. Free kicks elsewhere are only of benefit in the rare cases where a player is clear and the free kicks gives a turnover to the opposition. Otherwise a free kick slows down play too much and allows a defence to reset – so the advantage is generally turned over and rebounded in short order.
    I am surrounded by fans (not the Avenging Eagle) who scream and rant for every vaguely possible free to the Eagles and never apply the same standards to the opposition. They apply rules interpretations from their youth that have had no practical application in AFL in the past 20 years.
    They drive me nuts. I am all for passionate barracking and outrage (real or feigned) but the constant whistleblowers are a plague on all clubs. Stands appear to have these morons distributed within earshot every 10 seats.

  6. Anonymous says

    What did the Tiger supporters, who have rung up radio stations for years when their team has lost (although not many losses in the last 4 years), think of the umpiring in the Richmond v St Kilda game last Friday night, in which Richmond received a massive 23 free kicks to St Kilda’s 18 free kicks, yet St Kilda won by 40 points?

  7. Anonymous says

    I wonder what the Richmond supporters, who ring up radio stations after a loss, thought of the umpiring last Friday night where Richmond received 23 free kicks to St Kilda’s 18, yet still lost to St Kilda by 40 points.

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