If one could get frustrated about the delay to the AFL season, it would be Simon. Having had little movement in the AFL list for some years, Simon umpired four VFL grand finals before being promoted to the AFL in 2020. He then umpired one AFL game before the season was suspended.
But good things come to those who wait. So once the season starts up again, Simon will no doubt be in the thick of things again for game #2 onwards.
Simon’s first game was the St Kilda v North Melbourne game at Marvel Stadium on Sunday 22 March 2020. He admitted that, without a crowd at the game, it was a little eerie and lacked a bit of atmosphere. “You could hear every kick, collision and remark made by the players. But I had umpired a few VFL games at Marvel Stadium before which didn’t have big crowds, so it didn’t feel too different to them.”
His first goal in AFL football occurred when Ben Brown kicked North’s first goal late in the first quarter. Another player had had a set shot from basically the top of the square that hit the post a few minutes earlier. Ben Brown came in off his traditional long run-up and delivered it almost straight over Simon’s head from 30m out on an angle.
Simon’s pre-season has been like no other. His first training session in January was almost cancelled because of smoke from the bushfires. Goal umpires had to train inside that night, doing run-throughs in the corridors at Ikon Park. Shortly after that, another training session was cancelled due to poor air quality. In the lead up to round one, there were training interruptions due to COVID-19, then training sessions were eventually ceased in the week prior to round one. Not an ideal lead up to a debut. Simon approached his first game by maintaining a training routine as much as possible, even though it was apart from the group.
Since round one, Simon has established a routine which includes fitness sessions at home. He believes the fitness component of goal umpiring is easier to maintain that the skills side of things. He admits he might have to drag his wife Caitlin out for some goal skills training at the park in the lead up to round two!
Simon loves being part of an elite-level sport and the camaraderie of being part of the umpiring group. “The goal umpires are an awesome group of people, and training nights are great fun. Goal umpiring is challenging in itself and l am motivated to always try and improve my performances by the people around me.”
Simon prepares for each match by trying to get into a really productive mindset; positive and focused, but relaxed. He tries to think about the game, which teams are playing and which players might be in the game. He tries to arrive early to the ground and makes sure he gets a good night’s sleep before each game.
With umpiring, you can’t help but enjoy a funny moment or two. For Simon he recalls a particular funny incident when he was umpiring at local league. “There was someone playing who had been drafted in the top-5 of his draft year but subsequently didn’t make it at the AFL and found himself back at the local league. There was a throw-in in the forward pocket, and an inebriated spectator yelled out the player’s name followed by ‘…worst number one draft pick ever!’ The player yelled back ‘l was number three d***head!’”
Simon’s most enjoyable game to date was a drawn grand final back at local league, which he described as a pretty incredible game and experience. He also did a couple of Foxtel Cup games and the Victoria vs South Australia State Game at Adelaide Oval in 2016, which were memorable and enjoyable to be part of.
One secret that Simon is willing to share is that he had used the same clip on his scorecard for more than 10 years of footy. We hope that clip will be around for many more years to come. Well done Simon, congratulations on your first AFL game.