Round 8 saw the first game for premiership points played outside of Australia and New Zealand. Shanghai, China was the venue for the historic Gold Coast v Port Adelaide game. Seventeen umpires and officials made up the touring party who were fortunate to be chosen to represent the AFL.
After a lengthy delay in transit for the field umpires who spent the wee hours at Changi Airport, the whole of the group gathered in Shanghai on the Friday to have a training run at Jiangwan Stadium, the venue for the game. Everyone agreed the playing surface was magnificent and it was clear the AFL had done a mountain of work getting change rooms and spectator facilities ready for the ground to host an AFL game.
Post training, we all enjoyed our first of many serves of dumplings for the trip. That evening the group experienced the Shanghai road network as we headed out for a Chinese meal. Fair to say Hayden Gavine never wants to travel in a Taxi again judging by his screaming and crying the whole journey as we encountered a few near misses. Dinner was followed by a walk along The Bund, a waterfront area of Shanghai which is a tourist must see.
Saturday provided us with the chance to explore Shanghai. It’s an amazing city – huge, hectic, very Westernised with the population equal to that of Australia.
Sunday arrived and the group had to switch from tourist to game mode. The weather was warm but nothing like the pre-game forecast of smog and sandstorms so it made for a good day. Everyone prepared as close to normal as one could in a different country. We faced different hurdles than we normally would, such as the security on game day, which was tight even when going onto the field for pre-game warm ups.
Before the game, Richard Goyder, Commission Chairman and Gillon McLachlan visited the rooms and they congratulated us and wished us well, which reaffirmed for us all that we were to be a part of something special.
Just before the game, players and umpires lined up for the Chinese and Australian National Anthems, including some local Chinese AFL players who sung their anthem with great enthusiasm which the scene for a great day.
The game itself ran smoothly and all of the umpires involved from each discipline contributed to a great team effort and represented the group extremely well.
Post-game we all headed out to sample some more local cuisine before starting the long journey home.
It was a privilege for all of us to be involved in this history making game and a big thanks goes to Tom and Briana and everyone involved at the AFL the work they did organizing everything to make the trip a great success.
Hopefully it was the first of what might become a regular game each year and many more umpires can experience the thrill and pride of being involved as we did.
Written by Sam Hay, AFL Field Umpire