So what’s the score?

There’s been a lot in the media recently about the ugly parent syndrome at junior football matches, where feral mums and dads disgrace themselves by behaving badly on the sidelines.

But what about the technologically-challenged parent syndrome? The game is definitely changing.

I’ve had a go at most things in following the footy career of my 14-year-old son. Auskick coach, stats man, umpire’s escort, interchange steward, supplier of half time oranges and three quarter time snakes. I’ve had a stint at goal umpiring. I pride myself on the little things that make this role special. Getting in line with the flight of the ball if it sails through for a behind and tapping my chest to say its mine. Sprinting to the behind post and motioning downwards to indicate that the errant shot on goal has missed the sticks and trickled over the line. I’ve even tackled the job that is the bane of middle-aged men throughout the country: boundary umpiring. I have suffered the indignity of throwing the ball in over my head, only to hear the whistle of the teenage field umpire halting play and encouraging me to come in from the boundary by a few metres so I can have another crack. Ah, the perils of the job. Being caught out by a fast break in play and struggling to make it to the next throw-in on time. The scramble under the fence and down the steep bank to retrieve the pill after the full forward has taken the handball in the square and let loose with a leather burster just like they do on TV.

Now I think I might have come to the end of my usefulness.

Fitzroy meets Ivanhoe in the Yarra  Junior League under 14 Blue Division at the number one oval at Bulleen Park. I ask Paul, the Ivanhoe team manager, if he needs any jobs done today.

“Would you like to be timekeeper? Rick’s down for the job today, but he has to go and visit his father.”

“No worries,” I reply.

I’ve done it before. Plus, you get to sit in a booth out of the cold wind.

Paul provides the little timekeeper’s card where I am to fill in details such as scores, the time the umpires and respective teams enter the field and the starting and finishing times of each quarter. I enter the booth at the conclusion of the previous match. I introduce myself to Liz, my counterpart from the Fitzroy club.

The siren looks okay. We are shown how to use it by a teenage girl who has just finished her own timekeeping duties. It’s a dial not unlike the ones on old-fashioned microwaves. You turn the dial from the top position clockwise to the zero mark and the siren sounds. We give it a short blast. No problems. It is then a matter of turning the dial forward to the 20 –minute mark and letting it run down automatically back to zero, when the siren will sound to signal the end of the quarter. Piece of cake. I have been timekeeper at other venues where I had to set a timer and wait for the alarm to sound at the end of the allotted time before pressing a button to activate the siren.

The young girl informs us that we are also the scoreboard operators. The scoreboard is on the opposite side of the ground with digital numbers showing in bold red strokes.

Ha?

Then she reveals the IPad on the desk. She had registered each score as it occurred in the previous game by touching the appropriate spot on the screen with a small stylus. The problem is that neither she nor the older lady she had been working with knows how to wipe the score so the process can start again. Nobody has shown them how. The score of the just completed game remains on the scoreboard.

Liz remarks that this IPad looks a bit different to the computer she uses each day at work. Not wanting to admit that I am in the same boat, and seeking to do the male thing, I proceed to press assorted icons with the stylus. After all, how difficult can it be to get everything back to zero?

The screen displays a range of unintelligible symbols. The older lady says she has to go. The teenager offers to look for someone who can help us.

By this time the Fitzroy and Ivanhoe players are out on the field. Liz and I drag a portable scoreboard down the steps and lean it against the front of the booth. We open it up at the hinge in the middle and are confronted with the scores of another game, perhaps one played in the decade before the present scoreboard was installed. We can’t get this one to zero either. We finally work out that we need to pull small plastic strips down over each stroke of the white digital numbers to achieve blank panels.

Liz runs off to find her son, unable to play today because of injury, in case he needs to  operate it, as seems increasingly likely. I happen to notice the umpire walking out onto the ground holding the ball aloft and looking around pointedly in the direction of the booth, expecting the siren to sound for the commencement of hostilities. I scramble up the steps, twist the dial to zero and give it a blast.

A ground official arrives without ceremony, seats himself at the desk and starts to manipulate the IPad.  Liz appears again with her son in tow.

The official grunts in exasperation and reports that someone has “buggered it up.” Liz and I say nothing.

The man disappears and returns with another official. He pokes around with the stylus, gives us a look that says I know you two did this and then shows us the restored screen. He taps away and we watch the numbers on the scoreboard count down to zero. He explains at great length where we should point the stylus to record goals and behinds and what we can do should there be “any little mistakes”.

Liz and I are suitably chastened. It’s just in time for me to sound the siren again as the field umpire prepares to toss the ball into the air for the start of play. I turn the dial directly to the 20-minute point and the siren gives a momentary whoop like the sound a record makes when it is spun by hand on a turntable.

Liz and I are left to our own devices. We have a fine view of proceedings, but with the door of the booth closed we are strangely cut off from the sounds of suburban kids footy. We hear the warble of Magpies in the nearby trees and the whistle of the umpire officiating in the match on the oval behind us. We can see the grounds of Marcellin College and the traffic passing along Bulleen Road on its way to the Eastern Freeway.

I am filled with a sense of self-importance. Nothing happens until we give the say so. Each quarter begins and ends at our behest. We tell the participants when they need to come back from their breaks. Four minutes at quarter time, 12 minutes at half time and seven minutes at three quarter time. We press the little plus squares for goals and points and the scoreboard on the opposite wing instantly records our commands in bold red light. We diligently list starting and finishing times on the little white cards. The siren faithfully sounds after 20 minutes of each term and never fails to make us jump.

Liz and I discuss the fortunes of our teams.  My son plays a couple of quarters in attack, one in the midfield and the other in defence and does alright. Ezra, Fitzroy’s best player, is carted off the field with an ankle injury in the second term and doesn’t again until the final stanza. Sean, a boy of African descent, flashes in and out for the Roys. Jesse boots four for Ivanhoe.

We chat so much that it takes us a full two minutes to record Ivanhoe’s fifth goal, scored early in the second half. The shadows lengthen across the field.  Ivanhoe eventually wins by 21 points.

Liz and I sign each other’s scorecards, shake hands and congratulate each other on a job well done. I bring the digits down to zero on the scoreboard and put the stylus down.

Jeremy, coach of Ivanhoe, is a happy man. After suffering four hammerings at the start of the season the Hoes have turned things around. That’s two victories in a row now after their win over St Damians last week. He says the draw looks good for Ivanhoe in this six-team competition. He praises his players for “the good old-fashioned football” that got them home today. Big Tagger, Josh and Paddy receive awards for their efforts on the field. The whole team is warmly applauded by family and friends.

I slip the timekeeper’s card to Paul.

“Thanks John. Any problems?”

“None at all,” I reply.

None at all, that is, apart from the fact that you now need advanced IT skills to operate twenty-first century scoreboards.

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