When Brett Rosebury umpired his first AFL game in 2000, R13 Fremantle v St Kilda at Subiaco, John Howard was Prime Minister.
In the subsequent 24 years he’s seen off Howard and another six PMs including Kevin Rudd twice. We’ve only had 31 since Federation.
He’s heard the roar and copped feedback from more than 19 million fans. He’s flown 598,000 kilometres across the country to do his job.
He’s also been at the top level so long he’s umpired two generations of some of footy’s most famous families including Stephen and Jack Silvagni, Tony and Tom Liberatore and Gavin and Callum Brown to name a few.
On Saturday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground he will umpire his 500th game joining current games record holder Shane McInerney (1994-2019) as the only other umpire to have reached that milestone.
It’s appropriate the match is on the big stage at the G where he’s umpired 35 finals including eight of his nine grand finals.
He’s got the Dockers against Collingwood which has a nice connection to the Magpies who he’s umpired a record 87 times and to Western Australia where his umpiring career started.
“I took up umpiring when I was 14 and playing for Armadale in Perth,” Brett said. “I rang the local umpire’s boss in the Demons District and asked how do I get involved?”
“I think I can do a better job than the umpires who are doing my games. I umpired an under 10s game the next week and loved it. From there I was hooked. Fair to say I was a cocky smartass little kid running around providing plenty of feedback to those local umpires. Some of whom I’m still friends with today.”
One of those umpires was Dean Margetts who retired from AFL umpiring two years ago after an outstanding career of 377 games at the top level.
“I remember umpiring Brett in an under 17s game,” Margetts said.
“He was playing junior footy in our district. I paid a free against him and he gave me some feedback and I marched him 50. He’s never forgotten it.”
Even when Brett was giving Dean some lip the older umpire could see Rosebury’s umpiring talent from an early age.
“Brett has an X factor which others don’t,” Margetts said. “He moved well with a lovely flow and with ease. He had a strong whistle which demonstrated strength and confidence. He could bounce the ball like nobody else. He also had a skill set very few possessed.”
Despite their scratchy start Brett and Dean have become lifelong friends and colleagues. Between them they have umpired 876 AFL games (And counting) and more than 900 including WAFL games. They now sponsor an award bearing their names for junior umpires in WA.
Dean knew from an early age Brett was a diamond in the rough, back then all he needed was to be cut and polished.
Enter David Johnson.
BE PART OF THE GAME, NOT THE CENTRE OF IT – DAVID JOHNSON UMPIRES MANAGER IN WA
WAFL Umpires Manager David Johnson was the right man at the right time for Brett Rosebury.
A veteran of more than 218 WAFL/AFL games including four WAFL grand finals and four State of Origin games Johnson had clear ideas about the role of umpires and how the game should be officiated.
“Make sure you look after the players because they will look after you,” Johnson told his charges. “Feeling for the game comes from the respect you have for the game. Understand your role if we do that the rest will fall into place. You will enjoy it. Brett gets it.”
Brett got it alright. Johnson wasn’t just teaching Rosebury the rules of the game, what was a free-kick and what wasn’t. He was teaching him how to turn his love for footy into something constructive and vital to its health, good umpiring.
“Get to the game early, watch the faces of the people coming into the ground,” Johnson advised. “Look at their passion. They are there to see their footballers, the ones they love, the ones they’ve bought all their merchandise for. Your role is to let them enjoy this spectacle.”
Johnson was selling his vision and Rosebury was buying.
“Brett understands that the players need to trust us so they can put their bodies on the line,” Johnson said. “Our job is to ensure they can play the game as best they can. What does a player look for in an umpire? What do we need to do to be part of the game and not the centre of it.”
Johnson had so much faith in Rosebury’s ability he gave him his first WAFL game at the age of 17 (Youngest ever) and picked him to umpire the 1999 WAFL grand final at 19 (Also the youngest ever). It was the start of a beautiful relationship which continues to this day.
“David is still a great mentor of mine,” Rosebury said. “He pushed me from a young age and then worked on Rowan Sawers and Jeff Gieschen to get me onto the AFL list.”
1999 was the year Jeff Gieschen was appointed as the AFL’s Director of Umpiring after finishing up as Richmond coach.
He coached West Perth from 1992 to 1994, knew David Johnson, and trusted his judgement in appointing the teenage Rosebury for the WAFL grand final.
“Rowan and I decided to go and meet Brett at the National Carnival in Canberra and get a gauge on him. The first thing that hit me was he was just a boy, a baby-faced boy who looked like he was 15.”
He may have looked like a kid but Brett had the self-belief of a veteran.
“What immediately struck me about Brett was how confident he was,” Gieschen said. “The second was his decisiveness; he stopped playing that day when he thought he was better and went to the local umpires to start. The third was his touch of arrogance, he said I can do this, I’m better. To get to the top in any sport you have to have that decisiveness, especially in umpiring. It was tick tick tick. I thought even if we have to carry him for a while there is something special bubbling underneath.”
After a couple of trial matches in the Ansett Cup Brett was appointed to the AFL list in March 1999.
“I was lucky enough to be given one of the four spots that year,” Brett said.
“As you can imagine I was just over the moon and excited to join the AFL senior list. Rowan was pretty clear with me that I wouldn’t debut until the second half of the season.”
That plan was almost brought undone when Bryan Sheehan walked into a Fraser Gehrig punch at the WACA in round eight.
“Hayden Kennedy tried to talk Bryan into going off which would have given me my debut in bizarre circumstances, but Bryan continued to umpire, and I had to wait a little bit longer.”
Five rounds later he became the youngest player to umpire an AFL match at 20 years and 18 days.
DEMO DERBY- FREMANTLE V WEST COAST R21, 2000
One of Brett’s most memorable matches in his first season was the infamous Demolition Derby between the Dockers and Eagles in round 21, 2000.
“It was a day I’ll never forget,” Brett said. “I was the emergency, but I was flat out from start to finish. I remember running to the goal square pre-bounce with Matthew Pavlich and Michael Gardiner going toe to toe and then running straight to the other end of the ground where Dale Kickett and Phil Read were engaged in one of their many wrestles for the day.”
“Umpire Steven Hanley was cleaned up by Phil Matera and came running to the bench with blood on his shirt. He made me take off my shirt in front of the crowd at Subiaco and give him mine. The skinny little 20-year-old still appears on the annual replays each time the Derby comes around.”
Brett umpired his second WAFL grand final later in 2000. He spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons based in Perth, but Melbourne was where he wanted to be.
“I wanted to join the main squad so I could train and be around all the senior umpires I really looked up to in Brett Allen, Hayden Kennedy, Scott McLaren, Matthew James, Mark Nash, Darren Goldspink, Stephen McBurney, Shane McInerney, Mark McKenzie, Andrew Coates, John Harvey and David Howlett to name a few. I was really so lucky to come on at a time with so many amazing umpires all who gave me their time and helped guide me in those early years when I was learning on the run at AFL level.”
As he sits on the cusp of the 500 game milestone Brett remembers where it all started with a hint of disbelief.
“I don’t think it would have been possible when I started back in the pre-season of 1999,” Brett said. “It’s something I feel very, very lucky to have been able to have such longevity in this great game. I’m generally a pretty private person not seeking much media attention so I do get a bit embarrassed umpiring milestones.”
“I know my family and friends are super proud and I’ve been so fortunate to have amazing family support, mates who keep me honest and humble and great mentors and coaches over the years.”
So will 2023 be Brett’s last season umpiring? Time will tell. “Right now I’m still physically fit, mentally enjoying the challenge and love contributing to our new developing group of umpires. Hopefully I’ll leave a legacy for the new umpires coming through like I was fortunate to have those senior umpires show me the way in my early years.”
Written by: Neil Cordy
PART TWO – COMING SOON