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Williamstown’s Feardon Reserve played host to a special day for football’s discerning voice – the umpires.
This first-ever Umpire Appreciation Day was held at the home match of Williamstown CYMS against their VAFA D3 rivals La Trobe University.
For Australian football’s umpiring fraternity it was a significant milestone and what is hoped will become an annual event.
In a nice touch, the day included reserves and junior players forming a “race” as the umpires entered the field where all  players shook hands with the umpires prior to the match.
The day was the brain child of AFL Umpires Association Chief Executive Officer Bill Deller and Williamstown CYMS Dene Macleod, with great support from the VAFA, AFL Victoria and the AFL.
“The VAFA through VAFA General Manager Umpire Operations Brian Goodman has lead the way on this and what we really need to do is help other competitions do that.”
Deller said it aimed to provide players, officials and supporters with an opportunity to show their appreciation to those who umpire their matches.
“I think that football competitions do need their umpires…if clubs can jump on this and show some appreciation that’s great,” Deller said.
“We want people to barrack for their teams but when it gets to the stage that its abuse, intimidation, violence we do not need that.
Present AFL umpire Scott Jeffrey, who tossed the coin pre-match, was thrilled by the turn out and hoped this marked a continued shift in the public’s views towards umpires – a culture that has changed remarkably since he started with the whistle 16 years ago and congratulations must go to the VAFA & Williamstown on this initiative.
“Clubs like this are saying we don’t tolerate people having a crack at the umpires at the footy,” he said.
“We want to make sure they stay in the game. It’s a workplace for us and you want to feel safe.
“It makes it a better sport for the umpires to stay in. It’s easy to knock us and it’s easy to see umpires walk away from that.
“Ultimately why we did it to start with is because we love footy and want to stay involved.”
Jeffrey said a day like the Umpires Appreciation Day was very important.
“It’s something that’s pretty easy to put together but it means a lot to umpiring people,” Jeffrey said.
“We go out there everyday and we hope that at the end of the day, no one’s talking about our decisions.
“For someone to actually stop and say thanks for what we do is important. Saying thanks once a year is terrific.”
In unusual circumstances for the day’s VAFA umpiring panel, the start of the game saw their pre-match routine filmed for the nightly television news bulletins.
Jeffrey hoped this coverage would raise awareness in the community about the role of the umpire.
“To promote what today is about and appreciating the role we play in the game – yeah we are always going to make mistakes but someone has to be out there doing our job otherwise we don’t have a game,” he said.
VAFA CEO Michael Sholly said the growth of umpire numbers and their retention were crucial not only for the VAFA but across the board.
“There are people that won’t take up umpiring in the first place because of the negative attitudes that are around some areas so we are working hard to try to influence that, umpiring should be seen as a positive that can be enjoyed by all those involved,” Michael said.
 “A lot of it is an education process for players and supporters,” he said.
“When the umps are going off the field after a game, say thank you.”
 “If there’s one thing we want for umpires when they leave, it’s that they enjoy it.
“Hopefully (the appreciation day) can grow and maybe it will be a national day in the future.”