199 AFL games………………200 AFL games……………..201 AFL games coming soon!
One might have to reach for the record books to find out if there has been an umpire who has had to wait so long between officiating their 199th game and their 201st game. That honour may reside with goal umpire Steve Williams who officiated his 200th AFL game at the Essendon v Fremantle game at Marvel Stadium on 21st March 2020.
Steve finished the 2019 season with the preliminary final on 20 September, umpired his 200th game on 21 March and looks set to umpire his 201st game when the 2020 season resumes. A gap of 183 days before and so far 55 days after and counting.
Umpiring your 200th game in front of an empty stadium was something Steve had never experienced in any of the games prior. He admits it was odd at first, but as the game got underway, the focus returned to footy and the game seemed to feel closer to the normal.
When comparing his 200th game with his first, Steve says the athleticism of the players seems to improve year on year and the speed and skill level in the game lifts accordingly. He admits the scrutiny in the game has also increased big time from when he started. “The advent of the score review system has been a blessing and a curse in that regard.”
When asked what he liked most about goal umpiring, Steve acknowledged this had changed over his career. At first, he enjoyed the challenge of putting his skills to the test on the field and loving the experience of match day. As his career has progressed, the close friendships developed in goal umpiring have become more important to him and says having fun with mates at training is just as important as match day.
Steve’s career highlight and most enjoyable game to date was his first grand final in 2018 between West Coast and Collingwood. A memorable game with Steve giving two fingers to what Brian Taylor called the ‘most impossible goal’ by Dom Sheed, to put West Coast in front in the dying minutes.
Steve admits he is a hard marker of his own performance, having learned from a great number of great mentors during his career. Steve has spent a number of years coaching young umpires in the VFL and believes he has a solid grasp of what good umpiring performance looks like. To maintain high and consistence performance, Steve says humour is the best medicine and he tries not to take things too seriously.
One of the toughest decisions that Steve has had was earlier in his career when a ball was punched off the back of the scoring line into the goal post. The angles shown by the broadcaster didn’t help and appeared to show that he was wrong. The score review backed Steve, which created some controversy, however the broadcaster apologized to Steve the next day.
Funniest thing from behind the fence? Steve says the Collingwood cheer squad never ceases to amaze him. They’re happy as larry pre-match but once the siren goes, set yourself for a pretty wild 60 minutes ride each and every time.
In preparing for a match, Steve sticks to a fairly basic routine for matches of different times because in the AFL you can’t be too rigid as there are some factors pre-game that are out of your control. He is generally well rested and hydrated.
Steve, congratulations on your fantastic milestone and we wish you continued success once the season resumes.