Benched Coach

by Andrew Fithall

I didn’t have a good week this week. The Williamstown Juniors Under 16 Ds played Wyndhamvale at their ground and had a solid win. But I didn’t coach. There were a number of reasons for that. But, for the moment, let’s go back to Wyndhamvale. Wyndham was in the news a bit this week. Mainly in connection with being part of the significant growth area contributing to the population of Melbourne approaching 4 million. People are not saying vale to Wyndham (sorry – four years of Latin… and it probably should have been valete), they are flocking there in numbers which are exploding the population of metropolitan Melbourne.

I didn’t coach this week. The players know that if they don’t train, they may not play. I didn’t realise it would apply to me. I signed on as a coach of the Under 16 Ds on the understanding that they know I couldn’t always make training. I would try, but there are other commitments. One of them came up on Wednesday.

I chair a committee of junior domestic basketball clubs as part of my role on the Executive Committee of the Altona Bay Basketball Association (ABBA). I have been on the ABBA Executive for nearly twelve months, having previously relinquished my responsibilities on one of the domestic clubs. My principal role on the executive is to chair the junior domestic committee. Not many voluntary chairs of sporting committees have to survive a vote of no confidence, but that was my experience during the week. The meeting was on Wednesday evening. I survived the vote, seven to two, but not without having to withstand some personal vitriol that at times had me wishing the eventual vote would be successful and I could walk away. It wasn’t and I stayed. But I missed Wednesday football training.

The other training night is Friday. I was there at the start but then had to get daughter Audrey to basketball. A home game in Altona, but it was scheduled to start at 6. 50, and with the football training from 6.00 to 7.15, I had to depart training before they really got going. Dickie Fry was in attendance and looked after the training.

The text came through on Saturday morning. Team Manager Steve McHugh said that his efforts to secure a club umpire had come to nought. Was Dickie or me going to be the designated coach this week and did I have any suggestions on who could umpire? The subtlety of Steve’s attack should be given its due recognition. My response included a congratulatory message to Steve’s son Sam on his well earned elevation to the As, and to say that for this week, I would umpire.

My recollections of umpiring at Wyndhamvale are not fond. Some years ago I officiated an Under 11s game. Late in the game, when the result was certain, I missed an obvious free kick to Wyndhamvale. I knew at the time I should have given the kick. I don’t know why I didn’t, especially considering the incident occurred right in front of the Wyndhamvale coaching box and in full view of their numerous and vocal supporters. I remember the game well because my friend Juicer from Warragul was down with his family and had come along to watch the game. After the game, when I had completed all official tasks such as filling out score sheets and awarding player votes, I looked for Juicer so we could go home. Saw another Williamstown parent who had arrived for a later game, who made comment that my popularity in the area didn’t seem to be very high. I eventually found Juicer having a kick on the ground. He mumbled something that sounded like that he denied that he even knew me and would I please leave him and his children to their game. I am pretty sure I also heard a cock crow three times.

Wyndhamvale on Sunday was like many parts of Melbourne – cold, windy and wet. Bill and I got a lift to the ground with another parent. On arrival, I went out to do a ground inspection and realised very quickly my runners were not going to enjoy the mud and puddles which covered the ground. Nor were the spectators going to enjoy the view if the rain brought about any level of transparency to my white umpire’s shirt.

I met the Wyndhamvale umpire, Ang (as in Angelo) and we discussed our approach to the game. Half a ground each, take the opposition’s forward line, and call it as we see it. I looked enviously at his football boots, and the beanie which he wore throughout.

Despite the weather, the wet feet, and as a result of a half-time delivery of a new pair of football boots – the after-match blisters, this was one of my more pleasurable days of umpiring. The Wyndhamvale players were great. They played with good humour, always attacked the ball, accepted every decision without question, and were gracious in defeat. After the game, the Wyndhamvale coach was warm in his thanks. The other major variable in these exercises is always the other team’s umpire, and Ang was also great to work with. Occasionally forgot to blow his whistle for an obvious mark, but we worked well together. And from an aesthetic point of view, the spectators can be grateful the rain held off for most of the game, and my shirt retained its opacity.

So while I didn’t have a good week this week, it finished off well. And if I get to training, maybe my first game umpiring for the year will also be my last.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.

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