Article written by: AFL Boundary Umpire – Graham Bergroth
Most people believe that they do not take life for granted but if you really want to put that thought to the test, spend a night out supporting the great work of the Salvation Army providing food, blankets and engaging people living on the streets. The night certainly opened my eyes wide and I am thankful for the experience.
Stefan Grun had suggested, as part of his support program to first and second year umpires, that we might do something a little bit different by volunteering a few hours of our time. On arrival we met some of the staff that all shared similar admiral values. They are all clearly very passionate about the work they do with an outstanding positive attitude toward people. They appreciate the good that people have to offer, with an open-minded approach that appears free of all judgment.
The people we would meet on this night and their choices they have made in life are often met with disapproval and disgust by much of society. Even in a crowded city these people often find themselves in an isolating environment. The Salvation Army simply support them to move on in their life in a positive way and on this night I believe that we did our very best to adopt this approach and make a positive contribution.
A thought dawned on me when I considered where umpiring in the AFL makes us rich. It is not the financial benefits that I refer to but the fact that we are a close-nit community with a lot of support for each other and life long relationships are made. If any of us were all of a sudden stony broke with no house and no job, I know that each of us just amongst this umpiring community could find at the very least a couch to sleep on and yet this it is the social poverty that appears the most concerning nature for these people who are resigned to the concrete slab.
So we moved around to different parts of the CBD stopping at locations where people live. You would not know there were people there until the van stopped and they stepped out of the darkness. As rewarding as it was to provide these people with a pie, a bottle of water and a blanket, it was the stories they shared that proved to be a real gift for me.
We stopped off at Swanston Street as the last stop of the night. Here is where the more outgoing personalities greeted us. I met a man who played a guitar. He warmly welcomed me to play it a little bit. Our two worlds collided when I gave his beaten up old guitar a tune by whipping out my iPhone as a guitar tuner. So we took turns playing songs and shared stories from the football field before the man with the guitar wrapped his arm around his friend and introduced him to me.
‘You almost died last week didn’t you’ he said looking at his friend who nods in acknowledgement. ‘I had to give you mouth to mouth until the ambulance came. Then who would have looked after your dog.’ He then turns back to me explaining the situation. ‘He overdosed’. Feeling slapped in the face with this taste of reality I simply replied with ‘Wow’.
At the start of the night, I ran down the street on my way to Salvation Army café headquarters. I was running I past a homeless man who called out to me for spare change. I just kept running… because I was late to assist people… that are homeless. I am not suggesting money is the way to go but I probably should have engaged this person rather than dismissing him; food for thought. Appreciate what you have and if you can show respect where ever possible, you may in fact be making a real difference.
Pictured: AFLUA President Stefan Grun, with 1st and 2nd year AFL umpires.