2012 proved to be pivotal in the life of Dr Nick Wade. The oft told (by the writer) story of him receiving word from the AFL while traveling to Melbourne in his kombi van with his wife Carmel, that he was to be offered an AFL contract, radically rearranged his holiday and forced him to run beside Carmel who was driving the van. This turned his AFL story into somewhat of a Cinderella fairytale, partly embellished by my (the writer’s) imagination, that captivated the umpiring panel.
The National Boundary Umpire Technical Consultant at the time, Ashley Sandison, told Nick in the lead up to his 100th game in 2016, “You were a one year proposition for us but you took hold of the opportunity and wouldn’t let it go. I am genuinely impressed.”
Fast forward to Sunday October 1 2017, and a group of seasoned boundary umpires with a little grog in their bellies and telling stories after a hard season, wished Nick all the best in his retirement as he left the venue saying, “Nick you are well respected and you made a valuable contribution to the group.” No greater accolade could have been given to Nick on his departure after 6 years and 116 AFL games to his credit.
A one year wonder turned into a 6 year career because of the sheer determination of the man. “I missed a time trial once in my AFL career and it embarrassed me, I didn’t like the feeling of letting myself and everyone else down. I was determined that would never happen again.” reflected Nick.
On game day you could never wipe the smile from Nick’s face. “If you can’t get excited every game day you have to question why you umpire, it was such a rewarding experience on so many levels. I would regularly look around when I walked out onto the ground and ask myself what the hell am I doing here?” Nick always lives in the moment and now wonders where the past six years has gone. “The time has disappeared so quickly. You simply get into a routine and your whole life then revolves around your football. Umpiring out of Queensland I didn’t get to run on the “G” every week so when I got the chance I was always going to make the most of it.”
Asked about his most memorable experiences, Nick was quick to remember his debut on the MCG on a bleak Melbourne Friday night. It was Collingwood’s lowest attended home game in 80 years against Fremantle and it was two degrees. What was even more memorable was the hand warmers he was given by a trainer that night so he could feel his hands. “They were shakeable heat sachets that the guys put under their wrist bands, saved me for sure!” (Ed, now I’ve heard everything). His second and only other game there was just as memorable but not as cold.
Nick matured like a vintage red wine. He started umpiring in the QAFL in 2000. He ran in the under 18 National championships in 2005 and the QAFL grand final in 2009. In 2011, he umpired the WA v Qld interstate game and the NEAFL grand final. One of Nick’s many great attributes was the ability to not take life too seriously. When talking to a group of umpires and friends at the Queensland luncheon in June, he mused that Aaron Deckys had reached his 300 game milestone at a younger age than Nick was first contracted to the AFL panel!
Nick sought the counsel of two older umpires when he made the list. Among others, Luke Roberts and Darren Wilson were very supportive and assisted Nick grow out of his uncertainty as to his place on the national list. “It took me three years to get my confidence that I deserved to be there and it was only in my fifth year that I felt truly valued. It was why I wanted another year to prove I had plenty more to offer.”
Working in a professional environment as a research scientist with the CSIRO, Nick couldn’t put a cost to the impact his football had on his career over the past six years. “I had other colleagues present my work on my behalf at overseas conferences. I had a boss who understood my commitment to football and so I was able to operate at the same level over those six years and I am extremely glad that I had that opportunity.”
So what does the future look like for Nick? “Umpiring will not disappear. I would like to continue umpiring, but it will certainly take a back seat to family and work. I could not possibly have done this the past six years without Carmel’s unwavering support. Her view was always, it’s your opportunity, make the most of it. I promised her in 2011 we’d go camping at Carnarvon Gorge in the kombi, and now it’s in writing. I’ve achieved more than I ever imagined, so now it’s back to our bucket list.”