During the pre-season and practice match series earlier in the year, umpiring numbers were a little short in the Eastern FL in Melbourne.
Unfortunately – or fortunately it might now seem – some clubs were contacted and asked to supply their own umpires for a couple of these practice matches.
Nunawading Football Club asked club legend Jamie Shevlin to fill the void in their reserves practice match against Manningham Cobras.
‘From my own point of view after retiring from playing and having done the committee thing, and not ever being really that inspired to coach, there was suddenly a huge void that just watching footy was not filling,’ he said.
‘After heading down to watch a practice game this year, and being thrown a whistle to get the reserves game started, I was amazed how much I enjoyed the experience of officiating a game of footy.’
Umpiring has given Jamie an opportunity to stay involved in the game he loves without having to endure the bumps and bruises.
He has been able to maintain a good level of fitness and get paid at the same time.
While umpiring is not the same as playing the game, Shevlin says umpiring is a terrific way of getting his footy fix.
‘Apart from having a role in the game we all love, umpiring provides a satisfaction that essentially comes from assisting in seeing the game played in the right spirit, which lends itself to something we all enjoy – a good contest,’ he said.
‘Of course, the bonuses are some much needed exercise and some coin in your pocket, not to mention staying in touch with those most active in the game – players, coaches and club officials.’
Shevlin demonstrated a real feel for umpiring throughout the season culminating in a Division 3 Under 19s finals appointment.
The ex-Lion encourages any past player to give umpiring a try.
‘I reckon most would really enjoy the experience,’ he said.
‘Apart from giving you back a real sense of involvement, it will also add another, more rounded, perspective to the way you see the game.’
In April this year, ex-Nunawading star, Paul Dennis, ran into the EFL’s Development Manager, Mark Freeman, at the footy.
The two spoke about Dennis getting involved in umpiring.
‘Seeing Shev [Jamie Shevlin] running around in white also made me think that maybe umpiring is the next step,’ Dennis said.
‘Having been involved at a local footy level for many years and even continuing to play in over 32’s and over 35’s footy, you search for the same feeling that you enjoyed in your playing days.
‘Unfortunately the mind is adamant that you can still play footy, but the body starts to give you all the indications that it may be time to stop.’
A 20-year veteran of playing and coaching, Dennis says the idea of sitting around and not being part of the local football environment on a Saturday was not something he wanted to do.
'Having umpired a few games this year, I am the first to admit that it was a real buzz. In fact, it exceeded all my expectations,’ he said.
‘And to be involved again without all the injuries that came with playing footy was a perfect fit.’
As a man over 40 years of age, umpiring has filled a void for Dennis.
With the added bonus of keeping up his general fitness, umpiring has allowed him to put something back into local footy, as well as earning a few extra dollars each week.
‘To all those past players, and even current players, looking for a change and who don't believe they can umpire or believe you need to be re-educated, as I did: I can assure you this is not the case,’ Dennis said.
‘Playing to umpiring is a very easy transition.’
Like Shevlin, Dennis’ feel for the rules of the game and umpiring came very naturally.
He, too, was rewarded with a Division 3 Under 19 final appointment.
‘If you are looking to simulate the same feel that came with playing footy, give umpiring a go – you won't be disappointed,’ Dennis added.
Four years ago, Ray Phillips, by his own admission, was a little over weight and extremely unfit.
He thought umpiring was a way to change that.
‘I was at the Round 1 clash of Wantirna South and Knox and caught up with Rob Sharpe, who I knew quite well from cricket. I said to Rob that I would like to try umpiring,’ Phillips said.
‘The following Monday morning the phone rang and Mark Freeman told me I was to umpire the South Belgrave and Kilsyth Under 18’s the next Saturday.
‘I was little shocked but at the same time excited about getting involved in the game I love.’
For the remainder of his first season, Phillips cut his teeth umpiring Under 18 football, but was pleasantly surprised by how much he loved his new role.
The following year he graduated to open aged footy, umpiring mainly in the reserves.
He also dedicated himself to attend training at least one night a week to improve his fitness and learn where to position himself to give him a chance to make the correct decision.
‘I was extremely lucky that year to umpire with some experienced guys who were able to pass on valuable tips about umpiring. I was also lucky enough to umpire my first final,’ Phillips said.
After enjoying his umpiring so much, he completed a full preseason before the 2012 season and wanted to umpire senior footy.
‘With improved fitness and a bit more experience, I was given the chance and now have umpired nearly 100 games, including my first Grand Final – the Division 3 Reserves this season,’ Phillips said.
‘I want to keep going as long as possible.’
Phillips was no angel throughout his playing and coaching career, admitting he always felt the need to argue with and abuse umpires.
He felt he was always correct in his assessment of umpiring decisions, even from 150 metres away.
How times have changed.
‘It is quite funny to be on the other side of it now,’ Phillips said.
‘You still hear the same things yelled out week-in week-out, so footy from that perspective hasn’t changed a great deal.’
Phillips believes umpiring is ‘so rewarding’ and encourages anyone interested to give it a go.
‘Come along to preseason and you will not only get fit but will meet some great people along the way,’ he said.
‘Age is no barrier either as I started when I was 49-years-of-age.’
Current or former players wanting to give umpiring a try are encouraged to contact their local competition.