Mat (Nicho) Nicholls got involved in umpiring for some pocket money and to lose some weight back in the Diamond Valley Football League in 1992. He is now one of the most elite and professional umpires at the AFL level in 2017. This weekend Nicho walks out to officiate in his 300 AFL match. This is complimented by 18 Finals, 2 Grand Finals, International Rules Series and an AFL life membership. It is also complimented by his exquisite decision making, cool, calm and collected demeanour and his professional approach to the game.
Nicho was first appointed in round 2, 2003 at Telstra Dome. The match was between St Kilda and Adelaide. A crowed of 19,131 saw the Saints victors by 8 points. Nicho recalls a beautiful sunny afternoon with the roof open. He umpired with Marty Ellis and Justin Schmitt and “felt a lot better when my first bounce early in the 1st quarter went up straight.” Nicho was awarded heritage number 394. Since that first bounce, Nicho has been renowned for being one of the best bouncers in the AFL, something that is hard to disagree with.
Over the 14 year journey there has been some challenging times with new interpretations, positioning and expectations to adhere to. Nicho tells me that although it took him some time to ‘get it’, what he has come to learn is the importance of understanding what the coach and the coaching staff expect and require them to deliver each week; doing so, has enabled him to adapt to all these changes.
Having the right balance has also been a key success to Nicho’s Journey. “Umpiring has an equal share with everything else that is important to me.” This includes his love of golf. He plays once a week off 9 and tells me he has been working hard to get it back down to single figures. Note to self. Don’t ever ask Nicho for a game of golf! It is also important to acknowledge the influential people that have helped Nicho be where he is today. Peter Howe and Rowan Sawers both have had significant influences on Nicho’s development and success over a long period of time at VFL and AFL level, and he enjoys working with Hayden Kennedy and the current coaching staff while looking to continue to improve and perform at his best. He also acknowledges many of his peers who have added valuable support and comradery along the journey.
300 AFL matches has meant a lot of dedication to training and time away from his family. Nicho credits recent strength work, running more, training smarter and sticking to what works for his body as being keys to withstanding the constant rigours of AFL. The unwavering and invaluable support provided by his beautiful family has also helped him achieve what he has so far, something he is extremely thankful for and something his family is extremely proud of. 300 games is also a sign of consistency in one of the toughest games to umpire in the world. A feat Nicho gets great satisfaction from.
There has been some career highlights along the way, including his first game, Grand Finals and International Rules Tests. More memorable moments include the first bounce of the 2014 Grand Final, the 2013 preliminary final between Geelong and Hawthorn, and the 2016 GWS and Western Bulldogs match. One that wasn’t quite on Nicho’s radar was this moment from April 30th 2006. ‘Sirengate’ in Launceston. A great icebreaker at a dinner party I am sure.
The challenge presented each week, along with umpiring the best teams, the best players, on the best grounds and with your best mates is the thing Nicho loves the most about umpiring at the elite level. You are a terrific man with a great heart and a great passion that is certainly on par with the greats to have ever umpired our game. Congratulations on 300 AFL matches. Here’s to many more great memories and achievements.
AFLUA Marketing & Communications Intern/Colleague/Friend.