The human element

Have you even noticed how most racists start their rant with:

“I’m not racist, but…”

Just as most commontators start with:

“Now I don’t want to take all the colour out of the game, but…”

This piece is for them…

Goal Umpires and Video Calls

Some time this year, as sure as Brisbane aren’t much chop without Jonathan Brown, a goal umpire will get it wrong. It will be in a close game, decided by under a goal.

Maybe the ball nicked the post, and the umpire paid a goal. Maybe it went through the big sticks, and he paid a point. Maybe his mistake happened at the start of the third quarter. It won’t matter. As sure as Joel Selwood is a jet, the press will go wild.

“Decision Costs Game.”

“Call for 4 Umpires.”

“Video Technology Must Be Used.”

The arguments will run.

“It’s a proffesional game these days.”

“Careers hinge on these decissions.”

“Punters wager fortunes on points outcomes.”

And our game will die a little more.

When people ask me if I play rugby or AFL I get really mad, just as an AFL promotions officer would crack a fat.

“No,” I tell them. “I play Aussie Rules.”

I play and give everything, and, in many ways, have dedicated my life, to a game. And when I barrack, I barrack for a game. Something played by people. I support my favorite players, usally a mix of talent and personality. I give to it, like it has given to me.

I do not barrack for a business. I do not support a professional.

I follow something as unpredictable as life. Forty-four men trying to turn chaos into order by chasing a bouncing, oval-shaped ball.

Football, Aussie Rules, is a game.

A release from our daily lives of professionals and corporations. The AFL can doll it up as much as they like, slicken that packaging, but when we watch, in those packs, it is still about want. We give ourselves to it because it will always be, at its core, primal. We think of our players as warriors. We barrack for colours, like cavemen and tribes.

Since when did betting syndicates become more important than the culture of something ours?

The beauty of sport is it teaches us character. How to be a good sport. How to accept the umpire’s decision. By using video we are taking the human out of the equation. We are taking ourselves out of the game. We are saying the umpire’s decission isn’t good enough. We are asking someone else to be mechanical, perfect, when we are not. We are bringing the courts into our playing fields. Replacing drama, blood and bone, with cables and wires.

We are dispensing with character. The player’s, the coach’s. Ours.

Players, even good ones, make many mistakes in a game, lots of them so small you don’t even notice. So do coaches. Often.

Most umpires try their damn hardest. If they occationally get one wrong, too, we should show some character, wear it, and move on.

The ball is oval.

The human element is what makes our game.


  1. Spot on Matt. Absolutely spot on. I get the same anger when I hear all the wankers crapping on about a level playing field. WTF is a level playing field.

    The more rules, the more umpires, the more technology, the more the game dies a bit. It might be what’s wrong with cricket.

  2. There is no level playing field in AFL Dips.

    To prove this point I predict Scarlett will get two weeks for punching the ball against Hawthorn.

    Reason: round 8, Geelong vs Collingwood.

    Dawes gets off – Scarlett gets two. Just watch.

  3. You mean the one where Scarlett was looking at Jordan Lewis’ back and at the last moment turned his eyeline to the ground before running a knee into his kidney? :)

  4. matt zurbo says

    Thanks, Dip.

  5. One of the edicts from our coach was a non-abuse rule of officials. I don’t think it had any influence on them in terms of us getting more free kicks, but hopefully it made the game easier to umpire.

    In our league the blokes umpiring are the classic lovers of the game who would rather be watching than umpiring but somebody has to do it. There is already one bloke who won’t umpire another game after copping some abuse after a close game last year. No umpire, no game.

    That being said the two worst in the team for back chat were the coach and myself….

  6. Great stuff, Matt. (And I’m not just saying that because you have a “z” in your surname.)

    As a non-Collingwood fan, I’ll be forever greatful that the field umpire didn’t hear the final siren of the 1980 Night Grand Final before Kerry Good took his mark.

  7. matt zurbo says

    Good was GOOD! Laugh? Near wet myself.

  8. “I do not barrack for a business. I do not support a professional.

    . . . We think of our players as warriors. We barrack for colours, like cavemen and tribes.”

    Beautifully put, Matt!

    The best argument against video goal umpiring? Single incidents don’t win or lose games and so this futile attempt to reduce an estimated current error rate of 0.1% across a whole season is a turkey.

  9. Alovesupreme says

    Long after my feeble playing career reached its whimpering conclusion, I have managed to maintain an engagement with the game as an umpire. I’m winding down these days, but I’ve managed about 500 games over 20 years at a very modest level of football – consistent with my long-ago playing days.
    It’s heartening to hear that your Club has taken the stance which it has, and that you have perceptively pointed to the fact that we of the white mongrel fraternity love the game with a passion.
    Every time I go out, I’m still aiming to achieve a perfect quarter in my official duties, every decision and play-on call correct, my positioning ideal to make the calls and my prejudice only apparent to the extent of favouring the courageous ball-player in preference to the less courageous or the thuggish.
    I can point to better performances and poorer performances, but never one where I could claim that there wasn’t any room for improvement.

  10. Matt Zurbo says

    Good stuff, Supreme!

    As a bloke appraoching 500 games as a player myself, I dare say you’ve paid a free kick or two against me over the years.

  11. johnharms says

    I have seen alovesupreme umpiring. At Como. He looked supremely fit. It’s people like alovesupreme who keep the world spinning on its axis. Although, he does barrack for Carlton.

  12. Alovesupreme says

    Thank you John, a gracious compliment.
    I think we’ve probably moved in differnet geographic orbits, but if I had been umpiring where you were playing, I feel confident that my percipience would have seen your essential goodness, so that I would have ruled in your favour.

  13. Matt Zurbo says


    I was fair, mostly, but not always essentially good.

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