“This has been a crazy year” is a good way to sum up anyone’s association with AFL football (and life in general) this year but spare a thought for Leigh Fisher who recently umpired his 150th AFL game – Adelaide v GWS on Tuesday 8th September at Adelaide Oval.
In addition to his umpiring commitments, Leigh also has a young family and a café and restaurant which have all thrown up a lot of challenges and will continue to do so until life returns to some normality in Melbourne. He admits, like many in Melbourne, he enjoyed the initial lockdown period in Melbourne as it allowed us to slow down, take a breath and relax, something that he rarely gets to do.
Leigh has been one of many umpires who has relocated to an interstate Hub and avoided the second lockdown in Melbourne. He is there without his wife Jodie and 2 boys, Harvey and Spencer, and admits it has been tough without them. “I have been spending hours on facetime and l can’t wait until l get to see them again.”
On the flip side, there has been some positives as well. Leigh has missed Melbourne’s winter and he has been able to spend extended time with other umpires in cities that we usually only spend a night with travel to games. Leigh’s first location was in Sydney for two weeks then he shifted up to the Gold Coast for five weeks before another two week stint in the Barossa Valley. He is now back on the Gold Coast for the remainder of the season. In all, he will have been away from home for 3 months.
Leigh has been using his time on side ‘business’ trips to sample coffee at many cafés in Sydney, Broadbeach, Burleigh Heads and the Barossa Valley. Personal sacrifices made to ensure his café and restaurant continue to serve great coffee, here in Melbourne! He also admits his table tennis game has been improving by the day, with his competitive spirit coming into play.
With 150 games under his belt, Leigh has learnt to relax and enjoy the experience of game day. He admits he used to take things too seriously and get too focused and intense. Leigh loves a challenge and walking out onto the ground being ready for whatever a game might throw at him. “No two games are the same and that keeps you on edge. Our umpiring group is also very tight and sharing experiences with them on and off the field make it worth all the sacrifices we make.”
Leigh’s career highlight was his first game at the MCG in 2013. He admits looking back now he was very raw and very fortunate to be in that position. However, he has now established himself as a well-respected umpire on the AFL panel and was awarded with his first final in 2019. He has backed it up again having been selected to the finals panel in 2020.
Looking back over his career Leigh says his most enjoyable game was the China match in 2018. However, he gets a buzz out of any close game with a big crowd and relishes the feeling of walking off the ground at the end of a match knowing that as a team of umpires the job has been done well.
Leigh’s funniest moment involved Ray Chamberlain during an umpiring trip in 2015. Ray thought he had a ticket on Leigh’s plane from Los Angeles to New York. Little did he know he was on a flight that left 2 hours beforehand. Ray’s ‘interaction’ with the airline staff was classed as priceless. Leigh also admits any interstate trip with Troy Pannell was pretty funny.
To manage his umpiring, family and business commitments, Leigh has learnt that it comes down to balance. “Having the right mix of time for family, work, training and relaxing is important. You also need to love what you do otherwise it’s a waste of time.”
To have been part of season 2020, Leigh could not have done it without the huge support of his wife who has been shouldering the load back home with the two boys. He can’t wait to get home and share family time again, plus catch up with friends and extended family.
Congratulations Leigh on a fantastic achievement!