How do you know when the time is right to give it away? That is the loaded question all great athletes must deal with and so too our own Darren Wilson.
“It has been an amazing five weeks and I stand here tonight in front of you all saying I feel so humble and so privileged to have grown up and worked with you all over many years”
Life member, Darren Wilson had pulled the curtain down on a 21 year career the night before in the Adelaide v Nth Melbourne match. Four hundred and four AFL games including 48 finals and 12 grand finals. “The game had some significance for me, it was the two teams in my first grand final and it has been an amazing journey.”
The AFLUA sought to recognise Darren by hosting a dinner in the Chairman’s room at the Adelaide Oval attended by 40 people to recognise a great career.
Now the debate will rage, was he the best boundary umpire of all time? His old coach, Frank McHugh started the debate, ex AFL technical consultants, Bill Sutton and Keith Norman weighed in. Was it Leigh Patterson or Darren? Where does Kevin Mitchell sit in that debate and then there is Herbert Kent who held the games record for many years until Darren broke it back in 2012.
Frank can recall Darren’s first game as a young fella in the SA amateur league and told us about the journey. Long time friend and colleague Mark Thomson fired back and suggested that Darren might have returned from his “gap years” a little puffy. Darren gave footy away between 1995 and 1997 when he wondered where he was heading as a young man. He was returned to the game by his long time mentor Stuart Tonkin who as Darren put it, “told me a few home truths and gave me a decent kick up the backside. He turned me from a boy into a man. I owe him immensely.”
“Darren came back to footy as a driven man, right until this day,” reflected Mark during his speech. “I don’t know of anyone else who put water on his weet bix. His whole house had nothing in it but cereal.”
The comradeship and warmth in the room was evident. Darren rose to speak, he had the right of reply. It took him sometime to compose himself and then he went around the room singling out special times with the people who had gathered to celebrate with him. All the while focusing on the people, their relationships and their special moments, not the finals and grand finals. “Those things will take care of themselves and I worked my backside off to achieve them, but that’s not what it is about. Footy is about relationships and mateship, these are the things I will take with me from the game.”
Darren said, “the time was right, the end had to come. I just want someone else to have the fun that I have got out of footy these past 21 years.”
So what’s next for Darren? The AFL wasted no time in roping him into the coaching ranks. He is heading to the Gold Coast next week to coach the National Under 16 carnival and after that who knows. Darren won’t be rushed into making a decision for now he will sit back and smell the roses.
Article written by: AFLUA CEO, Peter Howe
Pictured: AFL Boundary Umpire, Darren Wilson being presented with his 400 game milestone certificate by AFLUA CEO, Peter Howe