Run your eye down the list of boundary umpires that front up week after week, do their job and go home you’d struggle to name most of them. They are the unheralded men of footy. They have to run harder, faster and further than anyone else who takes the field in any footy game but only get noticed when the commentators focus on a short throw-in rather than the ruckmen standing 50 metres away from them.
Mention the name Chris Morrison and only those who have been privileged to watch him ply his trade from close up know the quality of the man. Chris walked onto the MCG on Saturday night in his 200th AFL appearance. His first game on the panel was way back in 2003, “St Kilda v Adelaide from memory,” laughed Chris when we chatted last week about his milestone. “I debuted when the boundary umpire veterans were legends like Allan Cook, Mathew Vitiritti, and Peter McDonald.” Shane Jansen was the golden boy.” They guided our young group that included Glenn Sinclair, Gordon Muir, and myself. I didn’t expect to outlast Gibbo, Benno, Fozzie and Matty Payton.” “Another umpiring great in Murray Williams was coaching and was very influential in my first few years on the AFL list. Keith Norman too believed in my potential which encouraged me and gave me confidence to run and compete with the other guys on the list.”
Chris rates his running ability as his greatest strength. As a young man he ran athletics with Glenhuntly in the 400 and 800 metre events. “I got to state level but was simply too short to match it with the really good runners.” His real passion though from his earliest memories as a young boy was aussie rules footy. “If you can’t play it, you have to umpire it, just to be involved.” You can hear his love of the game in his voice and feel it down the phone line.
In the past few years he has fought off injuries to continue to umpire at the highest level and strive to get the most out of his umpiring. “Away from training, I constantly have ice baths and massage. It’s the little things like improving core strength that has made the difference.” Chris rates 2007 and ’08 as his best years. He did finals. But his fondest game is the 2008 ANZAC day game. “My father was a WW2 veteran and it is a significant day in our family. He passed away on Anzac Day 2012. It is a very memorable event in footy for me.”
The 2012 post season London exhibition game was also high on Chris’ memorable matches list. “Any time you get to go away with a group of colleagues is great. You get to really know the guys you go into battle with. It was a great trip.”
Asked to rate the best boundary umpires he has seen, Chris goes silent for quite a while and comes back with a couple of current guys. “Nobody throws the ball in better than Buzz (Ian Burrows) and nobody can gut run like Cootey (Adam Coote). Gee tough decision that one.”
Chris never thought he’d get past his 150 game milestone but he owes this season and who knows about next year to former umpire’s manager Jeff Gieschen and boundary umpire technical consultant, Ashley Sandison who gave him the go ahead at the end of last year. “I’m sure it would’ve been a line ball decision to give me another year. I’ll always be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to keep my career alive”. “My current coach Simon Leigh has also been very understanding and supportive with the difficulties I present to him on a weekly basis around combining my police work and umpiring. I could not thank him enough.”
Chris is also the first to acknowledge the support of his family to keep his dream of umpiring alive. Wife Danielle and his three children Patrick, Evie and Annabelle don’t see him around the home much but make it all the more worthwhile.
So what of the future Chris? “Whenever my time comes at AFL level I’m going to have a kick again. My best mate wants me to play with him at the Moorabbin Kangaroos, probably in the thirds just for fun, and I’m keen to get back into some serious pro-running. I put the phone down shaking my head in amazement. This man, Chris Morrison is unstoppable.