General Footy Writing: Coach turns umpire under the Westgate Bridge

By Andrew Fithall


Williamstown v Spotswood – Under 16Ds

Dickie Fry and I have been sharing the coaching responsibilities of the Williamstown Juniors Under 16Ds. At the beginning of the year when I was first approached to be coach, Dickie was one whose name had come up but was unavailable. He still plays super-rules and the matches often clash on the Sunday afternoon schedule. However his own fragility (another hamstring twanged) has meant more frequent presence at the games. I am happy for him to take the lead role while I fill the gaps: assistant coach, head-coach when required, runner, and very occasionally, field umpire.

Mid-week, the WRFL announced that their umpires had withdrawn their services. In the 16 Ds, we rarely get the services of an official umpire anyway, relying on the munificence of the club umpires. In the lower age groups there are often a number of candidates from the parent group. However, as the children age, so do the parents, but seemingly at a quicker rate. With Under 16s, there are few options. As an alternative, for one or two matches we have engaged the services of a 25 year-old cousin of one of our players, but this week I decided that I needed the run. By game day, the WRFL umpires were back in service, but as foreseen, our game hadn’t had one allocated.

Spotswood ground is located just near and easily seen from the West-bound exit of the Westgate onto Williamstown road. There are two ovals – the number one oval gets watered. The second is left to nature, which in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t been particularly generous of late. With Spotswood 16As also playing at home, we were relegated to oval number two. As well as being virtually devoid of grass, it is smaller and narrower, dimensions which didn’t suit our players, but were in-tune with the fitness level of the visiting team’s umpire.

I have a simple rule of umpiring – when you blow the whistle, blow it hard. Even if you don’t know what you are doing, you sound like you do. My first decision of the day – I did just that – loud and decisive. But I had erred in blowing it too early. The mark which seemed to be in-hand, was dropped. The full-forward was right in front of goal. Another rule I have, which is not really a rule – more a guideline – as early as you can in the game, pay a free-kick to the opposition. It sends a signal to players, officials and spectators, that you are not biased. Even if non-intentional, paying an early non-mark as a mark, and gifting the opposition full-forward the first goal of the game, I thought might send the same message. Based on the opinions expressed by a couple of Spotswood players throughout the remainder of the first half, I don’t think they got the message.

Spotswood had a good first quarter, making use of the wind. Their centre-half forward was a strong marking target, and with his thirty-metre run-up, the accuracy of his set shots demonstrated ample local knowledge of the ground and wind conditions. With the wind in the second quarter, Williamstown returned the favour and went into half time with a small lead. A couple of Spotswood players, one in particular, seemed to think that, in paying a couple of forward-line free-kicks to Williamstown, as well as a couple of thirty-metre penalties when said Spotswood player verbalised his thoughts, I was not the impartial judge I was hoping to project. Their runner approached me to identify the transgressor – information I was happy to pass on. Their coaching staff obviously addressed the issue, because in the second half, the main problem concentrated on his footy and was a significant contributor for the remainder of the game.

 The third quarter again favoured Spotswood, but they didn’t gain the break they needed if Williamstown were to make proper use of the conditions in the last. A three point lead shouldn’t have been enough. However, the last quarter definitely belonged to Spotswood. They went harder at the ball, kept forcing it forward, and kicked several goals from general play. They deserved their eventual sixteen point victory. And I was pleased to be able to shake the hand of the Spotswood player who had earlier taken issue with my performance.

We are no longer undefeated. Spotswood now sit atop the ladder. Williamstown I think will have learned a lot from the loss. We look forward to meeting them again later in the season when I don’t have to umpire, and perhaps, with some luck, the ground may even have some grass.

About Andrew Fithall

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

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