I’d like to introduce you to the man who was responsible for the taller goal posts at all AFL grounds. Yes that’s right, taller goal posts! Eric Armstrong, the AFL Victorian coach of goal umpires wanted a way to rid his men of controversy. Collingwood are still baying for blood, claiming Rocca’s kick in that grand final against Brisbane was a goal and that cost them a flag.
Eric decided to hang up his flags at the end of this season after a career in VFL/AFL umpiring that spanned forty-six years. Eric responded to a two line advertisement in The Age newspaper in 1967 that said “enjoy running and want to get paid? Join the VFL Reserve Grade as a boundary umpire.” Twelve years as a boundary umpire on that panel and getting older the late Norm Price suggested he become a goal umpire. So without any coaching, which was non existent in those days, Eric switched to the goals. His second game ever as a goal umpire was a VFL Reserves game. Eric was made a life member of the VFLRGUA in 1980. He was treasurer of that association between 1977 and 1983.
Eric’s career as a senior goal umpire took off after he umpired the 1982 VFL Reserve Grade Grand Final. He did his first senior game in 1982 and his first final in the VFL seniors in only his second year on the list. Eighty games and three finals later, in 1990 he retired. “In those days you umpired only seven or eight senior games a year. One week you could have an MCG blockbuster in front of 90,000 people and a week later be in the under 19s in front of nobody,” reflected Eric. “You were rotated through seniors, reserves and under 19s each three weeks.”
Eric fondly remembers training under George Mather who the group nicknamed “the sadist” for his training methods. “It’s a wonder nobody died. We had to do four kilometre time trials at Olympic Park every six weeks just to get a game.”
Following his retirement Eric was an observer for a few seasons and moved into coaching, first in the VFL in 1996 and then into the AFL Victorian panel in 1997,a position he held for 17 years.
So what are you going to miss Eric? “I’ll certainly miss the involvement, each of the guys on the panel became a good friend and I became a confidant of them as we developed their careers.” Who was the best you’ve seen? It was an immediate response “Luke Walker”, he reads the play so well and is never rushed into position. He will set the benchmark for many many years to come.”
Eric was awarded honorary life membership of the AFLUA in 1999 for his commitment and dedication to umpiring.
Eric cost the AFL $150,000 to introduce those higher goal posts, but he gave back more, as his coaching set the benchmark for goal umpires around the country.