Journeyman, Michael Palm umpired his 50th AFL game on Friday night at Etihad Stadium in the top of the table clash between North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
Michael’s career has already spanned two states, over 18 years and he is still only 31 years old. He is one of very few umpires to have umpired a state league grand final in two different state leagues.
Michael’s goal umpiring career started by accident when he and a mate parked their bikes behind the goals at a local game and the goal umpire said to them, “you want to do this?” The next week he was part of the SANFL umpire academy becoming an accredited goal umpire, aged 13 and a half. “I had never even considered umpiring and never thought about anything other than goal umpiring once I started,” said Michael today.
At age 16 he was umpiring on the senior SANFL panel. He still remembers his first senior game, Norwood v West Adelaide. Michael was 18. His rapid rise through the ranks continued culminating in 2005 when he umpired the SANFL senior grand final, umpired his 50th SANFL game and won the golden flags award as the best goal umpire in SA.
All of that changed in early 2006 when Michael moved to Ballarat in country Victoria chasing a career. “I realised how much I missed footy but I wanted this job to secure my future. I contacted Kevin Mitchell in early May but because the season had started he had nothing to offer me. I decided to umpire in Ballarat, which was the best decision I ever made. I loved umpiring in grass roots footy.” A Ballarat football league grand final made it two in two years, then it was off to the VFL.
“I could never find my feet and deliver consistently during my time in the VFL. I sat on the bench in the 2009 grand final as the emergency goal umpire but I couldn’t back it up. At the end of 2011 I was questioning my commitment and future. I had 14 years experience but I was going nowhere. In a sliding doors moment, current AFL goal umpires coach, Steve Stirling was appointed as the VFL coach and joined forces with two other goal umpiring legends, Anthony Black and Leigh Keen who had been at the VFL for a number of years, so I decided to give it one more crack.”
The rest as they say is history. Michael umpired the 2012 VFL grand final and became a contracted AFL umpire in 2013. Three coaches in his first three years (current coach Steve Stirling was the third) on the panel was a little disconcerting but that has now settled down with Steve into his second season as coach. “It has been a great journey and I feel very privileged every week and I cherish every game I get. You just never know when it will end.”
Let’s hope Michael you do many many more than the 50 you achieved in the SANFL, VFL and AFL.