It’s ok to question the umpiring: when 17-1 is not a date

Is it ok to question the umpiring in Saturday night’s game between the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide? It depends extremely much on who you ask. Following the match the Crows senior representatives, the coach and CEO, were quick to point out that they would be seeking clarification from the AFL about the umpiring during the game.

When asked about it the following Tuesday, Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge described any criticism of umpiring as ‘disgusting’ as it sends the wrong message to the footballing community about the ongoing need to support umpires. He makes a reasonable point, clubs should tread carefully when approaching this topic for fear they give the impression that the umpire at the kids’ footy is fair game.

Yes, I’m a Crows fan but here is an attempt at a recrimination free description of why it’s ok to ask about the umpiring on Saturday night.


28-12 is a big discrepancy, let alone 17-1

40 free kicks were awarded on Saturday night – 70% of them to one team. It was the most lopsided free kick count in a game this season. Furthermore, one umpire awarded 17 free kicks to the Bulldogs and one to the Crows – the other two awarding a total of 22 free kicks at 11-11. This is undoubtedly odd. It is not unreasonable for the Crows to ask the AFL about it and it makes sense that they let their fans know they will be doing so.

Context is important. This is off the back of the Crows’ last trip to Melbourne where they lost to Hawthorn in another controversial game (it started a meme and all) and a start to the season where the Bulldogs have now racked up an AFL record +77 free kicks in their first seven games. The Crows and other clubs have a right to know what’s going on here (even if it is as simple as the Bulldogs are being rewarded for getting to the ball first) and the AFL needs to know it has been seen. It may be entirely explainable and appropriate but the oddness of the numbers demand explanation.


The free kick count is only half of the story

As any numbers person will tell you there is an inbuilt assumption in much of this discussion that free kick counts should be even. This is, of course, debatable (although free kick counts are much more likely to be 50:50 than 70:30). But there is also an inbuilt assumption that the Crows’ concern is solely about the free kick count. This is not so debatable in all its incorrectitude.

To quote every football fan ever, it’s not just about the ones that are paid, it’s about the ones that aren’t paid. It’s also about the consistency of application of other rules (paying marks for example). The stock standard AFL response that ‘all the free kicks that were paid were there’ is disingenuous. Infringements are often not a binary (when does a player have possession of the ball?, somewhere there’s a line between ducking your head and putting it over the footy, what was his intent when he sent that kick/handpass down the line?, is he making a legitimate attempt?, did he have prior opportunity?).

Most of an umpire’s job is making such judgement calls where they must determine a degree of intent or the extent to which something is one thing and not another. It’s not as simple as ‘see it, pay it’ and never has been. If their application does not appear to be consistent is it not reasonable to ask the AFL why?


This is not about the result of that game

The Bulldogs should have thrashed the Crows, such was their dominance. It was only the extreme efficiency of the Crows’ forward line that made the game so close. The Crows would look at the game and say ‘we were beaten on our merits’. The umpiring doesn’t come into it. No problem. But what the Crows and every other club should be able to expect is what a former Prime Minister might describe as a ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle, mate’.

Every club in the league, particularly those visiting Melbourne, should be able to expect, whether they’re good enough to win by one point or bad enough to lose by 100, that they should get a fair ride from the umpires. If the Crows do not believe that is occurring they are well within their rights to seek clarification from the AFL. Particularly if it’s not clear that an umpire is as adept at his job as he is at handing out bum pats to Bulldogs players.


It’s ok to attempt to influence the umpires

Everyone does it, it’s part of the fun. When a home crowd bays for holding the ball every time their team lays a tackle they’re trying to influence the umpires. When a player sticks his arms up in the air as an opponent ushers the ball over the boundary they’re trying to influence the umpire. In publicity highlighting the umpires’ performance on the weekend the Crows are doing exactly the same thing. And why would they do that? Because it works.

The AFL is a large corporate style organisation. Inherent in that, like any body of a similar size, is a fair splodge of organisational expediency. If an act of convenience can make a problem go away, even if not entirely consistent with its other statements (i.e. the Whistle Blowers’ ‘Crows were not robbed’ edition and various pronouncements about focussing on the correct decisions being made rather than on individual free kick counts), such an organisation will likely take it.

Will Pannell umpire the Bulldogs this weekend or anytime soon? Unlikely. Will he umpire a Western Bulldogs v Crows game ever again? Also unlikely. Will he pat a player’s bum on the ground again? Even less likely. Next time the Crows visit Melbourne will the umpires pay extra attention to the fact they are umpiring the Crows in Melbourne? Most certainly. There is only upside in this situation for the Crows (other than the scorn of Beveridge) – it ensures they are able to compete on their merits.


Are the Crows the only club that is not allowed a little sook?

And finally, sooking about the umpiring after a close loss is a time honoured tradition in Australian Rules football. It cleanses the soul. Just ask a Bulldogs fan about the 1997 Preliminary Final, a Collingwood fan about the 1979 Grand Final, a Sturt fan about the 1978 Grand Final, a Swans fan about the Crows game a couple of weeks ago or a Crows fan about their last two visits to Melbourne. As with a three year old child or the CEO of a failed multinational, blaming external influences beyond our control provides us with sufficient space to begin the much more confronting task of introspection.

Coming to terms with loss is a fundamental aspect of the human condition – so let’s celebrate rather than denigrate. There’s probably a beam in your own eye anyway.


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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    I have no respect for Luke Beveridge what so ever in that he criticised the Crows fog asking clarification on some decisions yet he attempted to bury the Talia family it is hypocrisy of the highest order

  2. What’s this ’79 business? The ball was clearly inside (at least clearly not outside) the line.

  3. And to follow up from Malcolm, I lost a bit of respect for Bevo on his comments about WADA.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Got into a long online discussion Sunday am, essentially trying to explode the argument that because Footscray dominated the stats, the Crows had no right to query the free kick discrepancy.

    It was amusing watching the free kick counter ticking over like my local servo bowser at one stage. Not.

  5. Dave – while sensible your comments are far too moderate. It is obvious to anyone who can count that the VFL comp (sorry AFL) is fixed to ensure the over-represented swill can hang onto vestiges of past glory.
    Blatant home team bias is a purely Victorian phenomenon – like Eddie McGuire and Shane Warne. Similarly self absorbed.
    The numbers speak for themselves as rigorous statistical analysis by Dave “Suburban Boy” Warner demonstrated on these pages in 2014.
    I’m sure its got worse though I haven’t been able to update the numbers myself. I always thought a spreadsheet was the centre pages of Penthouse. And being a punt drunk I was born with 9 fingers on one hand, 11 on the other and 8 toes.

  6. Browny,
    I was watching the game with Mrs Smokie, who is a Bulldog fan.
    As such, for some banter and because I had tipped them, I was barracking for the Crows.
    In this context, I must say that I didn’t think the umpires were biased toward the Bulldogs
    in any way. I was surprised when the lopsided count was first pointed out by those
    imbecillic commentators.
    The big issue is the ducking of heads by players which makes it difficult for them to be
    tackled without infringing.

  7. And while I’m frothing. Beveridge, Eddie and Warne are nauseating Trump wannabe’s using lies and intimidation to preserve outrageous privilege.
    Geelong have doubled their Selwoods – no wonder their free kicks have doubled. Not that you would know listening to Dwayne Russell or the howls of outrage from the KP outer anytime an interstate team gets even one free.

  8. I agree Dave
    It’s ok to ask. I thought Pike handled himself well.
    I think Beveridge is gaining confidence as an AFL coach but you know, don’t be a dick about it.
    Thanks for bringing up 1978 yet again. As a 14 year old I thought I’d never get over it but I did. I never really understood the Foster hating. I was just pissed off that we kicked so poorly and the Redlegs had a great last quarter. Now lets never mention 1978 again.

  9. E.regnans says

    New to this topic, D Brown.
    But for my 2 cents – players and officials shouldn’t question the umpire publicly.
    To do so undermines the role of umpire.
    The rugby union culture around umpiring is the best I can think of.

    Sure – ask privately later. Seek clarification – but do it privately. The argument about appeasing members doesn’t wash. You’re appeasing a mob, really. And there are many mobs.
    Life is not fair.
    The umpire is right.
    The end.

  10. Nic McGay says

    I concur with E.regnans. Respecting the umpire is essential. Always approach the issue in private and take appropriate steps thereafter if you really think there’s something more sinister at play.

    In any event – and it’s sort of beside my above point – I saw the game and can’t recall too many howlers.

    Your points are merely red herrings that mask the real point: you’re pissed that you lost a close (and cracking) game. I know the feeling, I do the same thing after almost every West Coast loss :) It’s just that some games hurt more than others…

  11. Having even numbers of free kicks between 2 teams could be a better indication that the umpiring is skewed because frees should be paid as the umpires see it, not according to the “count”. A lopsided count does not indicate any bias. On the contrary. That’s not to say that the umpires always get it right. But who does?

    What worries me is how many charities the Crows will get tonight given all the so-called “outrage” from SA.

    Well said ER.

  12. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Some interesting views on accountability v undermining of authority.

    Is it just the public nature of the questioning that is at issue here?

    Does/should this apply to all realms of authority?

    Hurry up and bounce the ball, my mind is wandering.

  13. Rick Kane says

    The Hawks Crows game is a poor example … signed, a non-aligned footy lover and very happy man over last three seasons.

  14. Dan Hansen says

    Swings and roundabouts. I didn’t hear too Crows supporters complaining about Eddie Betts’ push in the back against the Swans.

    The Dogs dominated in every aspect, including being first to the contested ball, and would have been robbed if they lost.

  15. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for all the comments folks – love topics that provoke such varied and strong opinions.

    I actually quite like Beveridge and the Western Bulldogs, Rulebook, but like you was appalled by how they handled the Talia situation. Speaking of things going on behind the scenes, you imagine the Crows said to him something along the lines of ‘if you ever want to talk to one of our players again you can do it through the club or not at all’. Adds further spice as Mickey points out in his piece.

    I could not possibly comment on the call itself Litsa but always find it fascinating the grudges that stick.

    Love it when you come off the long run, PB. There’s more to unpack there than an Ikea box.

    Entirely agree with your big issue, Smokie, much bigger than this mere puff of hot air (I’m not arguing the umpires were biased towards the Bulldogs, I’m arguing the Crows are well within their rights to publicly say they are seeking clarification from the AFL, which is all they did). It’s huge – are these lads that lean into a tackle appropriately applying their duty of care towards themselves (and their right to sue down the track if something goes wrong) and are the umps negligent in their condoning of it by awarding frees? Lawyers must be licking their lips. In the week when a head knock fractured several of Keiran McGuiness’s vertebrae in the VFL it still scares me pooless.

    It’s an interesting topic, ER, and I have a large amount of sympathy for your perspective – particularly at the amateur level and it’s certainly a form of what I seek to teach my kids. That said, reflecting on U8s football might be instructive. The umpires at the lad’s level are generally teenagers, relatively new to the job. We don’t treat the umpires as if they are unquestionable – we treat them as if they are learning their craft just as the kids are learning theirs. Human beings that make mistakes and we can support to get better. The key point is the respectful relationship, not a fallacious call to authority. I’m not sure pretending it isn’t an issue makes the relationship respectful, in fact it might have the opposite effect. I reckon people are more capable of understanding than we give them credit for. The current Dangerfield media beat-up is a great example of that (sorry, a lot of different thoughts crammed in there).

    Thanks for your knowledge of my mind and motivations, Nic. I’ll be sure to consult you next time I’m not sure what to cook for dinner :) The howlers are beside the point of whether it is reasonable for a club to publicly seek clarification on the umpiring from the AFL.

    All charity gratefully accepted, Dips.

    All good questions, Swish. Particularly in the context of an AFL that has its own web TV show publicly evaluating its umpires.

    Fair point, NAFL

    Points three and five address your comment, Dan. In fact plenty of Crows fans acknowledged the push in the back (see Swish’s report on that match).

  16. Bah, the white maggots get paid enough money at the top level now to be held accountable, or at least queried when they stuff up.

    I didn’t see the game but 17-1 by one umpire seems rather miraculous.

    PB, ya gotta be kidding! I’ll freely admit that visiting teams used to get a bad run within spitting distance of the Vic Park Social Club but over in the west the umps are notorious for crucifying the Weagles opposition.

    As for patting players’ bums (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say), that’s another issue entirely.

  17. Bill Martino says

    I’ve just watched the first half very closely.

    The Dogs received 13 frees and the Crows one. I didn’t see any obvious missed frees to the Crows, and neither did the commentators. Out of the frees to the Dogs, for three of them I couldn’t see clearly what happened, but there were no complaints neither from the Crows players nor the commentators. The other 10 were all clearly free kicks. There was even a missed one (a commentator said it should’ve been 50 metres, but I’m not sure of the rule) to Stringer when he was held onto after he’d handballed. Only one Dogs goal, the first of nine, was from a free, and that was an absoluteley blatant one committed by Cheney on Dickson.

    In the second half the count was 15 to 11 the Dogs’ way, which is hardly an earth-shattering, or match-winning, difference.

    We beat youse fair and square. Suck it up, princesses.

  18. Dave- any organisation that denies its participants a voice in challenging its activity….

    From the forward pocket at the Docklands we were simply outperformed. Free from BT’s hyperbole and just watching the footy I thought we were lucky to get within eight goals.

    Of course we shouldn’t overly protest during the game, but after the final hooter I reckon questions can be asked.

  19. On the money Dips. Tonight third quarter 11 to 1 frees for the home team? So predictable the team that is loud re injustice during the week gets a sweet deal immediately thereafter.

  20. Done a count from Round 1 thru to round 7…Bulldogs 167 for – 100 against. Maybe individual umpire counts should be looked at for all games given the 17 -1 for one umpire in Round 7.

  21. Paul Spinks says

    I’m of the view that since Wayne Campbell left the building the technical, over-umpiring of recent times has reappeared, and so has umpiring controversy.
    Head-high infringements are once again being paid by guesswork, on the basis that “it could be high and if it were high it could be dangerous and perception is everything so I better blow my whistle”.

  22. Stainless says

    The Crows are perfectly within their rights to privately seek clarification on umpiring decisions. Every club should do that regularly. However, public questioning of umpiring decisions is always a bad look and is almost always the resort of the loser. I daresay Chris Scott didn’t have a go at the umpiring on Friday night, despite a 26-14 count against Geelong. If there’s a thread through Adelaide’s lament that home town decision-making is rife, then this week proves that it’s swings and roundabouts and ultimately, the better team usually wins. Maybe Pyke would be better off publicly questioning where some of his much vaunted “leaders” were during large periods of the game.

  23. Peter Flynn says

    It’s only right that Don Pyke asks for a please explain after last Friday’s free kick discrepancy.

  24. Dave Brown says

    No, Mr Flynn, it’s now Pyke’s turn to say it is ‘disgusting’ to question umpires

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