In the Sheds: Peace returns to Melbourne’s west after umpire ructions

By Paul Daffey

ALL Western Region Football League games went ahead at the weekend, which was a relief after the cancellation of all senior matches the previous weekend because of an umpires’ strike, but the rapprochement was not achieved without argy-bargy.

The Western Region umpires association won several concessions before its members voted unanimously to get back into their whites, or orange as the case may be, but it failed to achieve what for months was one of its main aims: the removal of Terry Gunn, the manager of the Western Region league’s umpiring department. The association considers Gunn autocratic. Mostly it doesn’t like the changes he’s introduced during four years as the Western Region umpires’ boss. Gunn’s powers have been lessened after last week’s talks between the league executive and the umpires association, but it’s hard to see the relationship between the umpires’ boss and the association that represents most umpires improving in the near future.

GUNN is not without experience in his field. He was an umpire in more than 500 senior games, in the Essendon District, Riddell District and Ballarat leagues and in the VFL reserves before the competition went national. He’s been an umpires’ coach for almost a decade and he’s represented the AFL at umpires’ clinics and seminars throughout Australia. Gunn told The Age that he never considered stepping aside to appease the umpires association. “Why would I?” He said he has strong support from the AFL and the Western Region league executive. “They see me as the way of the future.” When asked about stories that have come from the Western Region umpires association, such as ignoring selection panels and making the appointments himself, he said 99.9 per cent of the stories told about him were untrue. He finds some of the stories hurtful, but mostly he shrugs. Umpiring anywhere is fraught with politics, he said, but it seems worse in the west. “It’s disappointing that umpiring in the Western Region is a bit cannibalistic”

GUNN’S main gripe about the umpires association is that it’s stuck in the 1980s. He introduced changes such as orange uniforms for field umpires because he wanted to appeal to generations X and Y. “White uniforms are considered a bit dorky,” he said. “The coloured uniforms make them feel like superheroes.” Gunn believes that recruiting young umpires is a vital role for any umpires’ coach. To this end, he finds it hard to believe that the umpires association wants to lock him out of their meetings on Wednesday nights. “Umpires are not in a position to turn anyone away.” While talking to The Age, Gunn believed the umpires association could not keep him out of their meetings because the meetings are held on public space, at the association’s headquarters in Scovell Reserve, Maidstone. He planned to turn up to tonight’s meeting and carry out his coaching role as usual. He was not aware that association owns its rooms. It bought them off the local council several years ago.

THE deal to prohibit Gunn from association meetings on Wednesday nights was one of the main outcomes of the talks between the association and the league executive. Under the agreement, Gunn can enter the association’s rooms for the midweek meeting only with the permission of Terry O’Donnell, the umpires association secretary — and the official who’s considered Gunn’s main adversary. The other big change is that Gunn has been stripped of the final say on field umpire appointments. A selection panel of five has been restored, with umpires association member Bob Aitken as the chairman of selectors. Gunn is one of the five and has no more say than his peers. “I’m not unhappy with that,” he said.

THE umpires association is happy with a return to the policy that all umpires must join the association, applicable from next year. The association also wants a return to the payment system in which the league paid the association and then the association passed on the money to the individual umpires, but the league has won on that score. The league is to continue this season’s practice of paying umpires directly. Talks are continuing about tweaking the payment system to satisfy the umpires association, but talks appear to be going nowhere on payment of a $1500 fine. Before the season, the Western Region league fined the umpires association for bringing the competition into disrepute after Terry O’Donnell had been interviewed on SEN. The association believes it was denied a fair hearing on the matter and is refusing to pay the fine.

AFTER all the argy-bargy, the outcome has pleased both parties. The umpires association believes it has control of the umpires again, while Gunn is relieved to be able to resume coaching. The league executive is believed to be embarrassed about the messy affair; calls from The Age to two senior officials, John Batty and David Newton, have been left unreturned. The league did release a statement yesterday to say that the round-12 matches that were not played last week would not be re-fixtured. It’s not known whether clubs that were to host games will be compensated for lost earnings.

OF THE matches that were played at the weekend, the clear standout was the battle for third spot in division one between Albion and Hoppers Crossing at the Keith Miller Oval (the former Test cricketer grew up around the corner) in Sunshine. The home team was behind by a point when it peppered the goals late in the game, only to be held out by strong-marking defenders. After Hoppers Crossing had won by the narrowest margin, its players celebrated by singing the club song (“Cheer, cheer the Warriors again …” to the tune of the old South Melbourne song) in the middle of the Albion ground. A discussion followed on the Big Footy website about the rising practice in the Western Region league of victorious visiting teams singing their club song on the turf of the vanquished. This column can’t remember seeing a club sing its song on opposition turf; the practice is normally to wait until you reach the rooms and then bellow as loudly as possible. Albion administrator Jeff Quinsee (subs OK) wanted nothing to do with the suggestion that Hoppers Crossing was rubbing in the result. “If you score a one-point win, you’re going to be chuffed,” he said.

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