TURNING GREEN FOR A DAY

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It started as plan to film a match from the middle of the action. Earlier this year I asked Brian Goodman (GM of Football and Umpiring) if he thought it would be ok if I was to umpire a game of football this year wearing a GoPro to film the action from the middle.  Benny was more than happy for this to happen. The VAFA are always looking for more umpires and if I could video whilst in the middle, Benny told me it would be a good opportunity to demonstrate the fact that umpires have “the best seat in the house”. 
Almost seven rounds into the year and I hadn’t exactly made myself available for selection. Doing the VAFA Radio show on Saturday mornings then commentating matches in the afternoon, left little time to pull on the green and pick up a whistle. Last week I mentioned to Benny if you could find me an 11.40 game then he could pencil me in. By 4.55pm last Friday I hadn’t heard from Benny and to be honest I had forgotten about my offer. 
Benny walked up to my desk as the clock flicked over to 4.56 and said, “Right Andrew you wanted a game this weekend, I have a match at 11.40 where an umpire has pulled out and now you can take the green substitutes vest off and put on a green umpires shirt.”
“Ah sorry Benny, I had a commentator pull out so I have to call the Old Trinity v Old Scotch game and we are on air at 1.45pm,” I replied. “I thought that might be the case so I have you doing the match at Bulleen Park across the road from Old Trinity so you can still do both” Benny said with a smile. So with that, we dug up a uniform, quickly went over the rules again and secured a whistle for me to use on the day.
Umpiring is not something I had ever thought about doing but as the game approached I realised I was nervous. My co-umpire in the field Kyle Walsh, was a great support both pre-match and during the game. The first battle I faced was making sure I moved out of the way of the play. Having the ball and pack moving towards you, the natural inclination was to go and get the ball (Yes I did play football a while back before injury took its toll). This took at least a quarter for me to work out how to get out of the way. The next challenge surfaced when someone took a mark and I forgot to blow the whistle. 
When I played I used to chat to the umpires a lot, constantly reminding them to look out for certain free kicks and questioning their decisions. What I never realised, is that I was just one player talking to the umpire. When you have the whistle, there are up to 10-20 other ‘umpires’ out on the ground all giving you their two cents worth. Of course, you also have those behind the white line giving you advice too. 
There were mini milestones throughout the day. Paying the first free kick – it was for in the back. Calling for the first ball-up, after all, how long do you let the play go for before blowing the whistle? And of course the final siren was a huge relief; I got though the match without stuffing up too badly. 
Most of the players wouldn’t have known it was my first game. Some of the guys late in the match that had harassed me all day even acknowledged it was a hard job. This I can vouch for. When you umpire you make just as many ‘non-decisions’ as decisions where you have to blow the whistle. My respect for umpires has gone up significantly since my time in the middle. The constant mental application required never ceases over the 30 minutes of the quarter and you relish hearing that siren to signal a break. I am sure over time much of thinking you do just becomes natural but there is no doubt you are watching the play more than you ever had to as a player. 
Then there is your voice. You talk and often shout a lot more as an umpire than I realised. Talking and encouraging the players contesting the ball and to the other umpire in the middle. Calling out when to switch over who is responsible and then listening for when a change of control happens back to you. 
It is well known that the VAFA needs more umpires. I don’t think I am going to take up the whistle on a permanent basis anytime soon. However, there is a certain competitive element that has resonated with me of wanting to do it again, this time a bit better. I would certainly recommend that all players should at some point take a turn with whistle in hand, particularly any player that has been reported for abuse to an umpire. The player could be offered the chance to umpire a match as a means to reduce any suspension. It is an eye opening perspective of a game of football.
I would like to thank my co-umpire Kyle Walsh for a great introduction and also to the player on the day. I will have another turn in the middle before the end of the season and if any players have an injury that allows you to still run and blow a whistle then I suggest you have a turn too. 

Andrew Leonard – 

VAFA Media and Communications Manager and one time umpire