Get Out of the Umpire’s Way

Last week at the BSO the umpires were ‘centre field’. Both team’s supporters were unsatisfied with the umpiring. Now I am a cricket umpire and so I have a lot of sympathy for all umpires, of all sports. It annoys many of my Fitzroy brethren that I rarely (they would say never) think that the umpiring had any effect on the game. Players win or lose games as they make thousands of decisions every quarter. The back pocket must decide to play alongside (which side?), in front of, or behind his opponent every time the ball threatens to come into his part of the ground. This decision might decide the game. Umpires make far less decisions, infinitely fewer, and make far fewer mistakes as their decisions are far more ‘one dimensional’.



However umpires make mistakes and I think players must be allowed to show some disappointment at an umpiring decision but they must not carry it too far, beyond what is reasonable. I umpire cricket in the summer and I have a double hit rule. If I give a batsman out LBW but he got an edge to the ball I allow the batsman some slack. If he raises his bat, points to it but walks off quickly, keeping his mouth shut, I do not think that his actions require any action on my part; only one and therefore, instinctive action by the player. He has not contravened my two hit rule.


However if he stands at the crease for an exaggerated length of time and then does the above I consider a line has been crossed; two actions. Last season I partnered a new umpire who gave a batsman out LBW but unfortunately the batsman had got a leading edge to the ball. The ball did not hit the pad at all. This was quite obvious from square leg. The batsman erupted, quite understandably, but then he hoed into the bowler, the opposition captain, demanding the appeal be withdrawn. This bloke violated my two hit rule. A report was made.


Several of the Tramconductors are concerned that the umpires that we have been saddled with this year have ‘too thin a skin’ to be umpiring at this high level. My immediate answer to that is that a sensible player should hope for the best but plan for the worst, i.e. always assume that the umpire will not tolerate any dissent at all. Probably, and hopefully, the umpires are instructed and drilled to respond consistently to player behaviour and I would agree that some of the umpires respond too quickly to dissent. There appear to be differences between umpires which would be of concern if I was the head of the VAFA umpires.


The real problem in umpiring Australian Rules football is the nature of the game itself. Has anyone reading actually thought about games from an umpire’s perspective. What makes a game easy to umpire? Well the first thing is to be able to see what is happening. Cricket has a Law that penalises bowlers who run down the middle of the pitch. Most cricket fans think the Law is there primarily to stop bowlers damaging the pitch. It does have this function in Test matches. Jimmy Anderson was allowed to bowl illegally during this Ashes season. He contravened this Law continually and he gained a great personal advantage by doing so. The umpires should have given him an initial caution, then a final warning, and then removed him from the attack.


Jimmy would not have been getting in so close to the stumps and his lethal outswinger would have been rendered harmless had the umpires been umpiring properly. This illegal method of delivery is a far greater advantage than a certain straightening of a certain Sri Lankan bowler’s arm.


Nearly all cricket is played on one day and/or on artificial pitches so that damage to the pitch is simply irrelevant so why is this Law in the Laws? Quite simple really; it is designed to allow the umpire to have an unobstructed view up the pitch so he has some chance to officiate competently. Let’s put a rule like this into a football match.


I propose a new rule that states players must not get in the way of the umpire’s direct line of sight of the contest. The first time they get in the way they receive an initial caution, then a final warning and then they are removed from the field. Players would be impelled to throw themselves to the ground if they realised they were in the way.


I can identify many advantages to this rule. This would make the game cheaper for the clubs as one umpire would be able to ‘do’ a game by himself. It would be, at least initially, rather amusing to all watching. It would give an advantage to smaller players so stopping this trend to taller and taller players. It might also raise the standard of umpiring.


I will one day write about my five essential components of a successful rule or rule change. There are five things that a new law must follow if it is going to be a success. Stay tuned to the footyalmanac.


  1. Phil,
    terrific enunciation of a problem.
    But even better imagination of a solution.
    The theatre of watching footballers cast themselves on the ground, so as to avoid obscuring the (moving) field umpire’s vision, would be outstanding.

    I hope society doesn’t take too long to catch up with your thinking.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    Phil, I was there on Saturday and one particular bastard took a real dislike to Fitzroy, handing out fifty metre penalties like he was Wyatt Earp dishing out “rough justice” at the OK Corral. Maybe he oughta have been thrown to the ground?


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