When summing up her milestone, Chelsea Roffey simply said ‘Love footy, love umpiring’ whilst also acknowledging the many people who congratulated and supported her on her achievement.
In Round 3, Chelsea umpired her 250th AFL game alongside 200 AFL gamer Tim Morrison at the Richmond v Hawthorn game at the MCG on Thursday 18 June 2020. With Covid-19 restrictions it was a different milestone to her previous achievements but many watching on TV and celebrated with her.
Chelsea began her AFL career in Brisbane in 2004 before moving to Melbourne in 2008 to continue her career both with the AFL and as a journalist. Her first AFL match was the Brisbane v West Coast Eagles game in 2004.
Chelsea reflects on how football has changed during her career. It is faster, more congested and more adaptive. The AFL is more holistic as an industry, more socially responsible and engaged and reflective of society’s expectations, and a little more open minded. Technology has certainly changed as well and has evolved in recent years especially for goal umpires.
“A few years after l stepped into the AFL, l remember the formidable Fraser Gehrig getting ‘elbowy’ with an opponent off-play just outside the goal square. I yelled out a couple of times to avoid an escalation – invoking my most authoritative tone to state my presence. The thought running through my mind was ‘OK, l’m duty-bound to do this, but l’m feeling very much like Fraser’s mum right now, pleading that he show some common sense.’ I had about as much faith in my ability to calm Fraser down as my ability to safely wrestle a bone from the mouth of a Doberman. It didn’t escalate though, so maybe Fraser listens to his mum? Chelsea admits she misses characters like that. “These days it’s all about the hair, but back then, G-Train’s mullet was the just icing on a uniquely flavoured cake.”
Chelsea is now the second most experienced AFL goal umpire on the list, just behind Daniel Wilson. Reflecting, Chelsea says umpiring has been part of her life for longer than any other pursuit. “When l think about career paths, significant family events, and general life experiences, it’s incredible to think umpiring has been there through it all. Footy has been a backdrop to so many of life’s moments since l was born, and umpiring in particular has shaped so much, both practically from week-to-week, and philosophically. It’s had a major effect on my perspective, growth and the directions l’ve taken. It’s been a fantastic stage for being curious and learning a lot about myself.”
In November 2017 Chelsea was honoured at the annual stamp presentation, an award that is chosen by the AFL Premiership Players Club which selects 20 premiership players, coaches and officials each year to be inducted onto the Australia Post stamp. Chelsea says it was a humbling experience to be recognised alongside great premiership players of the games. “To be honest, it’s always a little uncomfortable being highlighted as the nature of umpiring is to go under the radar. But l felt honoured to be recognised as the first woman to umpire a grand final (which was the purpose of the stamp).” Chelsea admits she can feel a bit uneasy in the moment, but attention comes with the territory and she’s a willing participant.
Chelsea has umpired 16 finals including the 2012 Grand Final, 3 Anzac Day games including two Collingwood v Essendon games at the MCG and 3 drawn matches. She was made a life member of the AFLUA in 2013.
Her career highlight was umpiring the 2012 Grand Final. She recalls waiting in the race alongside Luke Walker before the game thinking “This is it!” followed by a wave of calm. The lead up to the game was nuts…..that quiet little moment felt pure and real.
In preparing for matches Chelsea reviews key coaching points a few times during the week, to reinforce concepts. She packs her bag the day before, writes down when she has to leave home and then relaxes. Before a game, Chelsea revisits her personal values around inputs and process – things she can control.
Covid-19 has certainly provided lots of changes including a pleasantness to doing your job without being yelled at by disgruntled cheers squad members. The lack of external noise has its appeal, making communication amongst her colleagues easier on match days. But Chelsea admits that the energy is completely different without the lift from the crowd, and it shows through the play.
Congratulations Chelsea on another fantastic milestone. Enjoy your time in the Queensland Hub!