When we talk about recruitment and the pathway into AFL umpiring you could be excused for looking to the larger centralised organisations that service community football.
In the last few weeks a number of umpires have achieved 50 game milestones and they are predominantly coming from Melbourne’s western suburbs. The Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) has been usurped by the Western Region Football League (WRFL) as the nations most productive AFL umpire nursery.
Eight current AFL umpires started in the WRFL, elder statesman David Dixon (301 AFL games) leads the group which includes, Pannell, Jones, Esler, Kowalski, Morrison, Mather and Craig, compared to five from the VAFA. Meredith and Donlon via the Moorabbin Saints, Jenkinson, Cusack and Sydney based Michael Saunders. Our player to umpire pathway umpires who are currently listed, Bannister, Fisher and Wallace have all developed their skills in the VAFA as part of their learning but I have not included them starting their careers with the Ammo’s.
Speaking with the western region boys, anecdotally they believe it was the quality of their environment and their coaches in their formative years that propelled them into the VFL and on to the AFL. Tim Morrison was adamant that in his mind ex AFL umpire and Head of Umpiring at the Western Region, Gavin Deller set the tone and gave the group confidence to take on their challenges of self improvement. David Dixon’s first coach in the Western Region was current AFL goal umpire’s coach, Rod Davies. Many of the other boundary umpires were coached by ex AFL boundary umpire and current observer, Alan Cook. Paul Saville and current Manager of WRFL umpires, Mark Westgarth are also ex AFL umpires who have coached and managed the group over many years.
Seven listed umpires currently come from Hobart in the Tasmanian Football League. Four of those umpires now live in Melbourne.
The Northern Football League and the Southern Umpires have six listed umpires each. Essendon Football League has four listed umpires.
Country leagues are well represented with eleven umpires coming from leagues including, Warrnambool, Bendigo, Goulbourn Valley, Geelong and Ballarat.
Our interstate based umpires are spread far and wide. In the smaller markets of Canberra, (6 umpires), NSW (2) and Queensland (8) from the three junior competitions on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and the QAFL, most commenced their careers in the junior ranks of those leagues.
In the traditional footballing states of WA and SA umpires started their footy in many different locations including the Glenelg SASFA with Hay, Fleer and Konetschka; Swan Districts juniors fete Laycock and Rogers
Goal umpire Matthew Norton commenced his umpiring in the Spencer Gulf footy league in Port Augusta over 300k from Adelaide. Jacob Mollison started his career in Albury, on the NSW and Victorian border. Jason Armstrong and David Harris commenced in Warrnambool and Ben Ryan in the mid Queensland league of Capricornia. Matt Stevic, Chris Roberts and Michael Hammond all started in the La Trobe Valley in Gippsland. It is true that Shane McInerney will one day get a statue made and present it to the township of Ballarat. Tristan Burgess and Tim Lougoon still have their roots in Bendigo. The Amateur competitions in both SA and WA have their fair share of pathway umpires as well including Axon and Edwards
One thing is certain, all of the leagues that have had an umpire who gets to the top of the pathway and earns an AFL contract, like a player, is always welcomed back. Never think that you are not role modelled to the current group of umpires and that there isn’t someone somewhere who wants to be, just like you!
Pictured: AFL Goal Umpire – Matthew Norton, who commenced his umpiring career 300km away from Adelaide.