Something Stirs in the East

You don’t get much further east than VFL Park in the 80’s.

But not all the action happens on the ground.

Walking down into the bowels of VFL Park the walls are all cold, bare concrete and you can hear your footsteps tapping, just the heels, as you go down the ramps.

The lights are all flouros and they cast a bright, cold light. You notice you are not casting any shadows because there are so many of them. The whole place just smells cold, empty, because there are no food smells or noise like upstairs in the public areas.

You go through the door marked UMPIRES, just a small simple sign, black capital letters on white.

The room looks like one of those hospital rooms you see on tv, really bright and clean, sterile looking. There are big mirrors on the walls and lots of chrome clothes hooks and a rub down bench, dark red vinyl on chrome legs. The room is a sort of creamy, boring color, characterless. The walls are bare, just painted concrete. Everything is cold. No heaters, nothing.

There’s no noise at all as you start to get changed, the familiar routine of getting ready. Bags unzipped, containers opened and closed, footsteps and voices outside the door, laughter.

If you think about it you can hear yourself breathe, so you try not to, because it makes it hard to keep going. Once you’re aware of  it you sort of have to force yourself to breathe.

The Goanna oil has got that great smell, deep heat, eucalyptus, menthol all combined. I love it. I can smell my whites, the smell that freshly ironed clothes have. My shoes have that shoe whitener smell as well, plus the smell of the silver duct tape I have to use to get my favorite spikes through one more game.

Once all the gear is on I hear myself walking on the concrete floor, my spikes scratching and clicking as I walk and turn.

Walking up the race, these long, quiet, cold tunnels. Now you can see the ground and the night sky is so black, the lights are so blindingly bright, the ground itself, the stands, it looks impossibly huge.

It feels spongy, yet firm beneath your feet as you walk out towards the centre.

At last there’s some noise, it’s as if you’ve just woken from a dream, been born anew.

For a couple of hours you’re truly alive.

About Nick Gibson

Worked out early didn't have the skill or the ticker to make it past the twos in the local league. Thought I'd try brains, not brawn, and took up umpiring in the early 80's, enjoying a couple of years on the VFL Cadet Squad, then off to the Bendigo Football League in the mid 80s while at uni. Finally back to weekly footy as an AFL member, clocking up a couple of dozen games each year. If it's a blockbuster, I'm there, level 2A on the wing, watching the greatest game in the world. GO ABC! That'd be anyone but Collingwood.


  1. Nick- a great re-creation in which you give us a strong sense of the moment and the place. Thanks.

  2. Wonderful memories of a time and place. Thanks Nick.
    Field, boundary or goal?

  3. Nick Gibson says

    A long, long time ago. Field umpire before a Tuesday night Herald Shield game. Remember them? Probably Assumption College belting someone by ten goals.

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