Almanac Umpiring: A Tough Gig

A Tough Gig


Umpiring’s a tough gig.


No tougher than playing. (I’ve umpired now and then) We choose our roles, or sometimes, the roles are chosen by our temperament, age, injuries. Footballer, umpire, trainer, painter, builder, farmer, coach, parent. Anything worth doing can be tough.


I used to be a big rap for umpies. In my old league we’d chat all the time. One or two of them I’d coax in for an after drink or two. When I did a mock Footy Show to raise some money for the kids I was coaching, two of them agreed to be interviewed. We were a rough rural club. Bit of biff and slag the umps. No mercy. I thought it would be a good bridge builder. It was a full house at the old Gellibrand Hall. Packed. The two umps agreed to come on stage wearing dark glasses and waving blind canes. Instant legends! The crowd cheered and roared, the umps had a great night!


Being an Old Dog, I guess I’m old school. I always greet them, wish them well for the game, and, usually, say “Well done, boys” and “Thanks” after it. I’m the same with my opponents. No big deal. Simple respect. Appreciation.


Mostly, the umps were great.


These days I have no idea. Even though the abuse is far less than it used to be, there is no banter any more. No humour. No conversation. Most of them just grunt when you say “Good luck” as if you’re an annoying. I never, ever get to say, “Hang around for a drink.” Ever. If they’ve umpired well, I say, “Good game boys” and more often than not they ignore me, or sneer at me as if I’m sucking up for votes. One kept giving me a look of total contempt.


I know many umpires have different personalities to footballers, that’s fine. All the more reason to get to know each other. Come in, have a beer.


Only one ump has all year. I have no idea why they don’t. The abuse and glaring from players and coaches, I don’t buy it. Prove the few bad apples wrong, boys. Hang around for ten minutes, let us get to know you. Break down some walls.


Every second week there’s one with skin that’s too thin on the oval. I reckon we’re copying the AFL too much. There they’re all miked up. The poor buggers. They’re coached, picked and dropped, not just on the decisions they make, but what they say. Any humour, or admitting they got one wrong, and they’re out. I feel for them as people. It leaves them with the role of humourless, personality-less schoolteachers. That annoying principal’s tone.


Last week we had a corker umpire. One of our blokes barked “What was with that?” He said, “Sorry boys, you’re probably right, my view was blocked on that one.” You ripper! A bit of honesty, delivered in the perfect matie tone. That’s all you want to hear. I had so much respect for him from then on. We all did. Nobody complained.


Every now and then an opposition player will complain to me about the umpires. I very rarely buy that, either. Almost always I tell them, so that any players on our part of the oval can hear: “Yeah, umpiring Div 2 hacks who stuff up 20 times a day each. How dare they make a single mistake!” The players almost always get my point.


Distance breeds contempt. A lot of players are easy bagging umpires because they have no idea about them as people. If they made a bit more of an effort to hang around after a game, rather than act like it’s a pay packet and take off, I think it would be a healthy thing for all.


Umps, I’ll stick up for ya, a lot of people will. Don’t be the school teacher, out the door on the bell. Trainers, parents, players, coaches, supporters, we all love footy. Not just the playing, but either side of the siren. I suspect you do, too. It would be huge if you proved it now and then and hung around with the rest of us. All of us in the same boat. A great boat. Football.


I dunno. Maybe it’s just the times. Umpires, I miss them.


A while ago, in a close reserves game, one of the opposition, on the final siren, started sooking at the umpire about how shit he was in the final minutes. I didn’t even notice the umps, not the whole game, which is a fair indication they were good. The player was young and really stroppy. I told him to let it go, the ump told him, twice, but the player just kept mouthing off as we were all shaking hands. It was childish. Finally, the ump said, with just the right tone of hard promise and humour. “Mate. Next time I umpire your team, don’t worry, I’ll remember you…” And at least a dozen of us chuckled.




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  1. Dave Brown says

    Great to see some words from you, Matt, and hope things are sufficiently dry up your way. Couldn’t agree more – the leagues (right to the top) seem to confuse silence and distance with respect and understanding. Makes me worry how many might put their hands up to umpire in the future.

    On a positive note was at a junior game the other day where a young rookie umpire was being on-ground coached by his dad. In the first quarter the old man popped his hammy and had to limp off the ground, leaving a very nervous looking son to carry on unsupported. As it became increasingly clear the lad was struggling a bit one of Barrie Robran’s sons ran out onto the ground to help out. Game finished fine and the umpire grew in confidence. Great local footy moment and one full of respect and understanding.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    On ya Brownie. Corker story. Great to be in communication again. I see Rulebook is already all over this topic! Haha. Good stuff.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Matt it is a interesting topic and I agree the level of communication on both sides has dropped away and become a us v them and there is no way some umpires will admit they made a mistake.Jordan Bannister refreshing to admit he made a mistake last week end but then the umpiring hierarchy at the top saying we don’t want that,absolutely stupid it should have been applauded.A decent umpires coach should be insisting on communication and working with the clubs hey we are all human aren’t we ? Thank you

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    On ya, Book

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