Blowing the whistle on the challenges of umpiring
Umpires cop a lot of abuse and they don’t deserve it. They’re the Ginger Rogers of footy – they’re doing just as much running as the Fred Astaire players, but backwards, and for one-tenth of the pay. When I watch a footy game, I’m really only watching for the umpires – I’m just in awe of their composure, their fitness levels, their split-second decision-making skills. Also I barrack for St Kilda so there’s not a lot else to watch while games are happening. I have a fair bit of idle gazing-around time.
Umpiring is no job for the faint of heart.Credit:Getty Images
So when the crowd cheer a beautiful mark, I cheer a beautiful umpire whistle-blow: I yell “Nice tooting, umpy! Nobody blows that ACME 477 Thunderer Finger-Grip Whistle like you! Or is the 476? No matter, blow it umpy, blow it good!” When the crowd yell out “Ball!” I yell out, “Ignore them, umpy! Only you have the training and knowhow to make the correct call! Be confident, umpy, I value your expertise!” When the crowd calls the umpy a blind maggot, I yell out “You’re no blind maggot, umpy! You’re well past the larval stage of your metamorphic development! You’re now a fully-grown housefly with 4000 compound eyes, capable of detecting movement unseen by human eyes! I salute you, umpy, you fly-human aberration!”
Maybe I have extra respect for umpires because I had a brief career as a goal umpire, for about sixteen minutes on a Sunday morning, at my son’s under-12’s junior footy match. I’d been rostered on as goal umpire and I’d never done it before: I was usually rostered on as time-keeper, that was my speciality – I could read a clock, I could ring an old school bell, I was known far and wide as The Swinger of the Donger. But goal umpiring? I’m not a native Victorian. I didn’t know how to do that finger-pointing thing, or wave around the flags with grace and gusto like I was on the barricades in Les Mis and Do You Hear The People Sing was just about to come up.
But I didn’t want to embarrass my son so for the whole week leading up to the match I researched umpiring websites, pored over YouTube tutorials, practised flag-waving in front of the bathroom mirror with tea-towels – I just couldn’t get that Les Mis flag-wave going, I was more Bob Fosse, too much wrist-snapping and jazzy knee-kicks. Anxiety crept in: sleepless nights, lying in the dark, worrying about rules and signals and other parents laughing at me, mocking my wristy jazzy flag-waving knee-kicks. And what was I going to do if the ball hit the posts? I’d have to just run away while my son watched in shame. Yeah, I’d chuck a runner.
Sunday morning came. I showed up with my son at the oval. I was given a white umpy lab-coat to wear – I looked ridiculous in it, like The Nutty Professor between transformations. I walked out to the posts and stood in the middle. The bell rang to start the game (my bell. I’m The Swinger of the Donger!) Thankfully, no goals got kicked for the first quarter – this was under-12’s footy, most of the team were playing Paper-Rock-Scissors with opposition players.
At the quarter-time break I had a quick word with the club manager, told her I was way out of my depth, she swapped me with another dad who was working the sausage sizzle, and I spent the rest of the morning burning onions to black char. I know it first-hand: footy umpires deserve a lot more respect. And so do footy sausage-sizzlers. And let’s not forget the footy donger-swingers. Respect them, most of all.
Danny Katz is a Melbourne humorist.
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