We are now in the second half of the season and just weeks away from the most exciting time of the year.
And while a number of teams are now competing for a finals spot, there is one other team playing an important role in proceedings each and every weekend.
AFL South East has over 500 active umpires officiating each weekend, servicing over 220 games per week across all our senior and junior leagues. The third team on the park is just like any of our clubs – with training and coaching sessions during the week before going out on the weekend to do their very best to service the game.
Just like players they will make mistakes, no one is perfect, but they don’t go out there trying to ruin the game. Umpires do their best and just like players hope to perform to their best in order to be selected for the big games at the end of the season.
This year we have had some very poor behaviour displayed towards umpires.
In junior football we have had umpires abused and leaving the ground in tears, we have had umpires threatened, all over perceived opinions on whether an umpire has made the right or wrong decision. The problem is not just in junior football. We have also seen this behaviour in senior football, from on and off-field abuse and threats, to post-match issues with umpires in social functions, and even when walking to their vehicles.
Umpires understand that with their role they face scrutiny and pressure, however, no one deserves abuse, threats or physical altercation over decisions they make.
As we all start to prepare for finals and a break at the end of the season, many players will be thinking about if they will return for the 2019 season or if this may be their last.
Coaches, club officials and volunteers will also be thinking if they are happy to go around again next year.
The third team on the park will also have these thoughts.
Umpires will be weighing up if they want to go around again and put up with the standards of behaviour being displayed towards them.
Umpires play a critical part in our leagues and currently, we do not have enough with many of the 500 active umpires officiating in up to five games over a weekend.
We need many more umpires for 2019, however, if they continue to face abuse, threats and on-and-off field confrontation we will not retain or grow our umpire numbers to the level required.
In a tight game, invariably the umpire will be blamed and subject to verbal attack.
But what about the players?
Missed tackles, missed targets, a failed spoiling attempt, undisciplined acts that give away crucial 50-metre penalties all play a role in the final result. Like the players, the umpire is doing his best. And just like the players, they should be encouraged.
As you enjoy the football this weekend, and for the remainder of the year, think about your actions and how you would react if your own flesh and blood, your son or daughter, was treated this way.
Would you want to experience abuse, threats or confrontation on and off the footy field?
Parents, players, officials, supporters, take a moment and think about it.
This is a just a game after all.
John Anderson – Region General Manager
Carl Fletcher – Regional Director of Umpiring