When you realise that ACT based boundary umpire, Luke Roberts started umpiring in 1985, most of the current group were only “a twinkle in their father’s eyes” as the old saying goes. Luke’s first ACTAFL grand final was two years later in 1987 and he debuted on the AFL list in 1988 at the SCG. Footy was a past time then and while it was a passion for him, there were more things in Luke’s world that took precedence. His nursing qualifications, a very young family and world travel were a few distractions. AFL footy had just entered the Sydney market and was attended by a more inquisitive crowd, rather than the passionate crowd it has now become. ” I was only 18 and had never seen more than a few hundred people at a game before so a 10,000 SCG crowd was huge,” reflected Luke. “My memories are vague and I only remember snippets. Standing in the race next to Jason Dunstall and being dwarfed by him, watching John Platten and Gary Ablett snr taking speccies put me in awe of AFL football.”
Luke came back to Canberra and settled back into a “normal” life. He went back to footy and again his running ability and skill as a boundary umpire saw him umpire the ACTAFL ’04, ’05 and ’06 grand finals. Still restless and looking for a bigger challenge he wrote a letter to the AFL umpires manager, Jeff Gieschen outlining his umpiring pedigree and seeking an opportunity to umpire AFL footy. Jeff was taken by the passion in his letter and a couple of months later after a 10km time trial and a practice match at North Sydney Oval, Luke was back umpiring AFL football.
“I can remember watching some very good boundary umpires in Canberra. Stephen Donlon did 60 odd games and Jason Smith did 70 AFL games including a final and retired a couple of years before I got back on the list. Andrew Pearson likewise with 29 games. James Savage had a significant impact and was my room mate and mentor for the first few years. Adam McDonald and Luke McSpeerin in Sydney became running mates each weekend and Adam in particular was a terrific teacher and calming influence early on. Since he came on the list, Mick Saunders has been a great peer and someone who has pushed me on field to continue to improve and up the standard. We’ve shared some great experiences together including our first two finals.””
Luke is one of only two umpires of the current crop who have umpired in the two, three and four umpire systems. Darren Wilson is the other. So how do you cope with the demands of the game now? “I am much smarter about my training loads now with my rest and recovery playing an increasingly important part. I still do the same volume of work but I manage myself and the load much better.”
Luke believes throw-ins have significantly improved over the past few years with much greater focus and media attention on this skill. “Ruckmen are standing a long way back, possibly due to fatigue but also due to the difference in distance we throw as a group. Fitness testing is more in-line with game expectations and I think this will continue to be refined. “Boundary umpires in today’s football need speed coupled with strength and endurance. The guys all need to be very good middle distance runners,” Luke said.
Luke has vivid memories of many games but two stand out. “My first final was the Carlton v Essendon elimination final in 2011. There were over 90,000 people and I remember my chest vibrating from the roar of the crowd prior to the first bounce. Despite Carlton winning convincingly, I recall standing on the point of the square after a goal in the 4th quarter thinking how much longer can these players keep up this intensity?!” The second memory, was my first game back on the list in 2007. It was round 1 and the grand final replay at ANZ stadium. Sixty-five thousand attended and the game went to the wire. The noise was deafening. These memories and the great mates and friendships I have made along the journey are the things I cherish and reflect on.”
Luke’s career spanned eight seasons over 26 years but his impact on those who know him will last forever. The cheeky smile and warm handshake the minute you meet him hide his ferocious dedication and perseverance that will go unchallenged. Luke enjoy your family time back in Italy next year and we look forward to crossing paths again soon.