In all the footy finals craziness, while we watch the players scramble for the ball and fight to the last siren to keep their team in front, how often do we stop to think about the people in lime green running up and down the field trying their best to make the right call with fans yelling hysterically from the stands? The job of a field umpire cannot be an easy one but without them, the game would be in complete chaos. So these finals, we thought we’d look at the frenzy through the eyes of those other people on the ground — the AFL field umpires.
We had a chat to one of them, Curtis Deboy about this important gig.
Why did you choose to become an umpire and when did you start? I started umpiring when I was 14 years old. I loved footy as a kid and wanted to earn some money during school. It was hard to start with, but I learned to love it very quickly.
How much training do you have to do to become an AFL umpire? We train 11 months of the year (and rest in October). We have two sessions together each week, but also train individually most other days. In summer, I will normally run five times per week with some other sessions thrown in such as swimming or cycling.
How do you prepare yourself before a game? Before a game, I like to stay calm by praying and reading some of my favourite Bible verses. It reminds me that football is just a game, and I’m very lucky to do what I do.
Is there a particular passage from the Bible that you read pre-game? Yep, the same three every game: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men"- Colossians 3:23 "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31 "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" Philippians 4:13.
How hard is it to make the right call when it’s not an obvious one? It can be really challenging, but that’s what makes the job so interesting. I make errors every single week, but I try my best to learn from them and get better each match.
You must have to have a thick skin to be an umpire, how do you handle challenges from the crowd? To be honest, the bigger the crowd, the more exciting! When 90,000 people yell, you can’t hear anything but a roar, so it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s part of the job and we just focus on the decisions we’re making rather than what the supporters think. Their job is to be passionate, ours is to umpire the game and stay calm.
What is the relationship like between umpires and players? It varies from player to player. Everybody is different. Some like to talk more, some don’t say anything. Mostly, they are respectful. Communicating with players is a great part of umpiring.
Do you have an AFL team that you follow? Honestly, no, I don’t follow a team. When I started umpiring as a kid, I realised I wanted to make the AFL, so I cut ties with any team I may have supported! I just love footy and I don’t care who wins.
Can you describe what it is like out on the field during a big contest? It is incredibly exciting! I love the roar of the crowd and the responsibility of performing my job well in a big moment. The pressure is enjoyable. I have many amazing memories from umpiring- from brilliant goals and great marks to close games and everything in between. Nothing beats a game like ANZAC Day or a final.
Can you imagine what football (or any game) would be like without rules? It would be chaos! So, umpires, like Curtis, play a special role in football—without them they’d be no-one to enforce the rules or make sure the players are playing correctly, fairly and safely. God has set some rules for life, too—not to tell you what you can and can't do to stop you having fun but to protect you and help you make the right choices so you can live life to to the max. When you choose to follow God's rules and do your best to live life his way he will strengthen you (Philippians 4:13) and better equip you to deal with anything life throws at you—he will always be with you and help you become a star player in the game of life!