Footy: Full points for goal umpire who relishes his part in the game he loves

I often mused when growing up: “What on earth would make someone take up footy umpiring and endure the insults and abuse that came with it”?

During my childhood, I was sure it was normal practice to be an overzealous critic of umpires and it was OK to hurl foul language at them. After all, how many times have the men in white (or red, yellow, orange or green) conspired to lose a game of footy for my beloved teams?

Players never make mistakes!

As I grew up (only in age) I was sure that only barrackers of other teams were one-eyed and I was far more subjective in my assessment of everything to do with the officials of our great game.

Coming to know an umpire changed my perspective on umpiring; it provided me with an answer to my childhood question and made me realise that not every footy player was of equal skill.

Over the past five years I have come to know David Dixon, AFL goal umpire,  and appreciate the sacrifices he has made and continues to make to achieve to his best in footy.

Outside of family, friends, peers and work colleagues most football supporters would only know the officials of our national sport by the numbers printed in the weekly Footy Record. David hasn’t even been afforded the opportunity to wear his lucky or favorite number.

The 2009 season saw David became the first goal umpire to be given the honour of All Australian twice, having earned the same achievement in 2005. Among his other credits in 2009, David took centre stage in his 200th AFL senior match. While he did not get a banner to run through he will have a good “collection of photos from the day” which he will look back on with pride once he holds up the white flags for the last time. Finally, and arguably most importantly, David officiated in his third Grand Final, following on from 2000 and 2005.

So what makes a twice ‘crowned’ All Australian goal umpire want to be an umpire and keep pursuing a career where scrutiny from the public and media has increased dramatically in the last ten years?

Growing up, David was like any normal lad for his age. He joined his “grandparents and parents watching footy”, which ignited the desire to just “be a part of it”. David realised early on that he wasn’t going to be good enough to play, so he did the next best thing in his mind: he took up umpiring.

“The love for the game meant I wanted to be involved in any way I could,” he said.

Goal umpiring wasn’t on his radar when he “sent a letter to the Footscray and District Umpires Association.” David ended up running the boundary for five years. While “running the boundary keeps you fit”, David wanted to be more involved.

He noted that if others had pursued their non-playing dreams and achieved them then “that’s what I wanted to do”.

After joining the Victorian Football League, David was fortunate enough to progress quickly through the TAC Cup competition and he managed to umpire his first VFL reserves game in 1995. Throughout the next two years he continued to improve in the VFL ranks.

Since making his AFL senior debut in 1998, the veteran has noted significant changes. None of which have diminished his desire to continue at the highest level.

David said he “just wants to do everything perfectly during a game but it gets harder and harder each year with the speed of the game increasing and the heightened scrutiny of umpire’s mistakes.”

While most of the football news in this town focuses on the feats and misdemeanors of individual players and clubs, the umpires feel plenty of pressure.

David pondered his response to a question regarding the general footy mad public and quipped that “most of the cheer squads are good but if mistakes are made and it’s a field umpire issue, you as the goal umpire also cop the brunt.”

Despite the heightened scrutiny from different angles and the increase in speed, David still has a love for the game that caught his attention as a young child.

“You wouldn’t turn up next week if you didn’t,” he said.

David said goal umpiring is “more mentally draining than physically draining”. He enjoys the ongoing support of “my wife, my mum and my sister who never miss a game.”

So what makes anyone take up what appears to be a thankless job?

Next time you ponder what makes a person take up umpiring, think about your response. Ask yourself if you have set foot on the hallowed turf three times on the last Saturday of September as a participant and been named the best in your chosen field twice.

David Dixon has.

About Stephen George

I am an avid sports fan who admires anyone who can play or participate in sport at pretty much any level. My favourite sports are AFL, soccer, Major League Baseball, Rugby League and NFL. I have recently finished my Diploma in Sports Journalism and I am interested in improving my skills by contributing to the Footy Almanac


  1. John Butler says

    Nice Stephen

    David is no doubt a wonderful servant of the game.

    And few of us will ever step onto the field on the big day.

    But you must know, we’re all wondering if it was he who was involved in THAT call during the Grand Final.

    I know this runs counter to the general sentiment in your piece, but it’s only natural.

    If he was, it would just reinforce that even the best can get caught out.

  2. Stephen George says

    Thanks John for your response

    Fortunately for David he was NOT the goal umpire involved but you are right when you say even the best can make mistakes


  3. Ricky Martin says

    Hey Georgie,

    Great artical mate. Gives a very different view and an other insight to our wonderful game.
    When you get a chance say hello to Sticks for me because as an old work colleauge of mine i do check for his name when watching my beloved pies or friday night footy to see if he’s officiating.
    Well done again mate.

  4. John Butler says

    Did David have any particular thoughts on all of that (apart from relief)?

    Watching the cricket umpires nowadays, it strikes me that the level of technological scrutiny on officials is such that no one will stand up indefinitely.

    What do the people involved think about that? As well as the various suggestions that are thrown up- 2 goal umpires, etc.

    I wonder what I would think in their shoes.


  5. Stephen
    I have had the pleasure of meeting David a number of times. Apart from consistently being one of the AFL’s top goal umpires, he is also a great bloke.

  6. Stephen George says

    John, David is all for anything that will ensure that the right decision is made. Having done a little goal umpiring in my time, it is certainly not as easy as it looks

    Smokie88, you are right; David is a great bloke and I’m glad I have got to know him

  7. Sam Higgins says

    Stephen George,

    I have followed this great game for many years and I found your article insightful.
    I too aspired to become an umpire but unfortunately havent made the grade as yet.

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