A free tank of petrol lured Ray Chamberlain into umpiring – and it’s fair to say his career has run like a well-oiled machine ever since.
Chamberlain, or ‘Razor Ray’ as he is well known, was at Carlisle Park in Cranbourne on Wednesday night, joined by fellow AFL umpire Craig Fleer as part of Community Umpire Round.
To celebrate the occasion, a host of AFL Umpires gave up their usual training session and travelled to community umpiring groups across Victoria to engage with local members and facilitate training sessions.
For Chamberlain, it brought back memories of his own beginnings as an umpire in Canberra.
“Mum took me down to watch my younger brother, the umpire didn’t turn up so the president of the club asked me to do it and said, ‘We’ll fill your car up with petrol and make sure no one hangs it on you today,” Chamberlain recalls.
“A bloke called Bob Stacey came up to me at halftime and asked me how long I had been umpiring. I told him 40 minutes, we had a laugh and it just sort of took off from there. I loved footy, I was a decent runner and understood the game pretty well – that’s where it all began.”
Chamberlain has forged quite a career since those early days, working his way through junior and senior football, then the TAC Cup and VFL to become a high-profile and polarising figure in the game.
He recently umpired his 300th AFL game, in a career that includes the 2010 grand final and replay, and the 2011 International Rules Series.
Chamberlain thinks there is still room for personality in the umpiring ranks.
“I believe you shouldn’t act like someone that you’re not, and as long as your intentions are good and you stay within the guidelines that have been set out, then there is room to express yourself with your umpiring,“ he said.
“We have very strict guidelines in regard to respecting the participants of the game. You can have a personality but you can’t step outside of those.”
Chamberlain said his self-assuredness comes from being thoroughly prepared for each outing.
“I get as anxious and as nervous as anyone, I’ve even vomited before games because you don’t want to bugger it up and spoil the game for the players and everyone involved,“ he said.
“I get my confidence from the work I do during the week, making sure I’m physically prepared and I’ve thoroughly thought through my decision-making process.
“If I make a mistake, and we all do, it won’t be because I haven’t prepared and done everything in my power to perform at my best.”
The 41-year-old had some great advice for umpires who are just starting out on their journey.
“Listen to your coaches because none of them want to see you fail,” he said.
“Most of the time they provide opportunities for improvement and not many pats on the back, but just understand that that’s their job and they are just trying to help you.
“Have passion, have intent, and don’t limit yourself to other people’ ideas. I had a dream of umpiring an AFL Grand Final and people laughed at me but I did everything possible and have been fortunate enough to have that happen.
“Don’t let anyone stomp on your dreams.”
AFLSE Regional Director of Umpiring Carl Fletcher hoped the visit would encourage more people to get involved in a great part of the game.
“To have the elite umpires of the AFL return to take training is a great boost for the local umpiring community,“ Fletcher said.
“There are so many great opportunities in umpiring and the pathways are very clear for people who have the dream of making it to the elite level or just supporting our local competitions.
“Locally we have 582 umpires involved in AFL South East and we are looking for many more to join the ranks – and we can take them right now.”
Those interested in taking up umpiring can contact Carl via email at firstname.lastname@example.org