As the 2014 season draws to a close spare a thought for those men and women who underpin our great game in the country regions of Victoria.

Ken Wright is one of those men who has drawn the curtain on his 36th season as an umpire with the Albury umpires association.  Ken, 55 umpired his way to 1000 games this season and was then inducted into the Albury umpires hall of fame.  “Eight umpires were inducted on 26 July .  They had a combined total of 9,000 games and 325 years of service between them,” explained Ken when we caught up yesterday.

I have known Ken for most of his 36 years of involvement as have all of those who umpired in the Ovens and Murray Football League during the 80’s and early 90’s when two umpires, one from the VFL and one local umpired those games.  Ken umpired 326 and 3/4 games in the Ovens and Murray over that time.  “I did my planta facia in the third quarter of a game and had to come off, gee I was dirty on that.  The only other game I missed in 18 years was for my wedding.” Ken has umpired 3 Riverina grand finals and 20 district league grand finals.

In his younger days Ken weighed 59kg ringing wet and could run like the wind. He umpired the 1990 and 1991 O&M grand finals.  “The 1990 GF became known as the “blood bath” when Wodonga and Lavington descended into all out war in the first three minutes.  We couldn’t get the game going again because the ball had been kicked over the fence so we didn’t even have a ball.”  These days he is still only 72kg and still rates his running as his hallmark. 

“I have seen many changes over time but you know the ball is still oval shaped and there are goals at each end.  The footy has been reinvigorated in the region with the inclusion of Brendan Fevola, it has given footy up here a real shot in the arm.  Fevola provides status and charisma to the point where 8,000 people attended a game just to see him.  It was fantastic.

“The other beneficiary is the district leagues who have welcomed very skilled players who are unable to commit to the demands of O&M clubs and three nights a week training,” and Ken should know.  He umpired his 1000th game in Justin Koschitzke territory, Barum Buttock with ex-VFL umpire Scott Miller who travelled from Queensland to umpire with him.

Ken rates Glenn James as the best umpire he has ever seen.  He loves to watch Jacob Mollison on AFL fields today as the local prodigy.  So has he lost any of his passion for the game?  “I did two district finals and I have now had a couple of weeks off it’s about time I started pre-season training.”  As if I didn’t know.

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