Don’t let the greyish hair and the craggy face fool you. When you step onto the training track or onto the footy ground, veteran boundary umpire John Morris will give nothing short of 110% and make every post a winner. You’ll know you’ve been engaged in a war of wills when you lock horns with John and more often than not he will come out the victor.
Only Darren Wilson and John are left from the old “two umpire” days when the object was to run your teammate into the ground. Twenty years and 250 games later, John has taken some time out to reflect on his run, through the eras.
It was an easy task to take John back to the start. Although he struggled to remember the dates, not that you can blame him, there are so many over 20 plus years. Employment opportunity, family and then footy formed his lifestyle and moved him around the country through four different states.
He commenced umpiring in NSW in 1985, moved to Victoria in 1989 doing a stint in the VFA and the AFL reserves. John rolled the names of Maxwell, Sutton, Hammond and Peter McDonald off his lips as he chatted about the guys he started with – all of whom went on to umpire grand finals, but have long since retired!
In ’93 he was appointed to the AFL senior panel. “It was a different era, tougher in many respects, an error resulted in suspension not a points deduction. We turned up 35 minutes before a game once because the traffic was horrendous even though we allowed over three hours to get out to Waverley Park. We did the game and spent the next two weeks suspended,” reflected John
At the end of 1994 John moved his family to Tasmania for work and he had to forgo his place on the list for the next few years and focus on his work and family. “I moved back to NSW in 2001 twenty kilos heavier, not even my father recognised me. I went down to training and said I wanted to get back on the AFL list. I was laughed at. That just made me more determined,” mused John. Another move to SA and a rejection because of his age from the then coach of the SA boundary umpires only fuelled the fire. Then it was back to NSW and onto the AFL list in 2004 and the final piece of the puzzle was put into place when he moved back to Melbourne in 2005.
John is a man who is always looking for improvement, an edge, no matter how he is going. During his time in SA he began to develop a throw in technique that he believed to be “fool proof.” “By launching the ball from your side it will send the ball higher into the air, it is not so debilitating on your back or on your quads during the last quarter of a game. My throw ins became much more consistent and I became a better boundary umpire.” stated John. He has now turned many of the AFL boundary umpires to adopt his style and ensured that they have less back related injuries.
John loves his running and the older he gets the more he embraces it, “I have to keep up with the young blokes,” smiled John. He loved the legends he ran with and there are none better in John’s eyes than 12-time grand final umpire Darren Wilson and Leigh Paterson (nine grand finals).
Has he given up on his dream to umpire a GF? “You have to dream and believe you are good enough.You have to put yourself in position one-A with consistency in performances week in and week out. I also have to be realistic………………” John paid great respect to his support crew, his wife Susan and his kids who support his umpiring ambition.
John, all of your contemporaries will agree, if hard work, love of the game and the challenges it creates for all umpires in this era, are the criteria of a great umpire, you should be in position one-A.
Congratulations on achieving a great milestone.