Local football umpire Amelia Magiarapis is only new to the world of local football umpiring, but she’s already well aware of the abuse which has driven many away from the weekend job.
- The Riverland Football League is experiencing a lack of umpires, with some blaming abuse from the crowd
- The RFL has implemented new measures this season to crack down on umpire abuse
- The SANFL says finding young umpires to replace older ones is a challenge in regional areas
The 17-year-old is one of a dwindling group of umpires for South Australia’s Riverland Football League (RFL), who are putting a call out to community members to help boost their ranks.
“I do definitely hear it towards the field umpires, but you kind of just have to block it out,” Amelia said.
In the past the league had enough umpires to officiate both the six-team Riverland Football League and the then-eight team second tier Independent league.
But now, they are struggling to cover three A grade games on the weekend.
“I also believe that some of the abuse that some of the young umpires we’ve had in the field have heard (is part of it).
“They umpire in the field in the lower grades then they go and boundary umpire in the senior grades and they hear that when they’re near the boundary line – some of that has had a bit of an effect.”
League cracking down on abuse
The fall in umpire numbers comes as the league takes steps to curb poor crowd behaviour on a Saturday.
After of reports of anti-social behaviour, including abuse against umpires, the RFL introduced a new volunteer role at games which will police supporters.
This volunteer will walk with the umpires between the change rooms and the ground and liaise with officials if they hear or see any innapropriate behaviour from the crowd.
New RFL chair Mark Wright said repeat offenders who are spoken to by these volunteers over more than one week will face match bans.
“There’s been a bit of it creep back into the RFL this year after a year off,” he said.
“If we can assist the umpires with this sort of behaviour and make the football day a safer environment and a more appealing sort of environment, then hopefully we’ll get a few more umpires.
Umpiring for fitness, fun and pocket money
Max Jericho is one of the next generation of umpires looking to take over from the more experienced local umpires.
He is only 16 years old, but has already taken to the field to umpire senior football in the Riverland.
“I had some friends doing it and figured I’d come out and give it a go and get some pocket money as well,” he said.
“It’s good fitness, the money is nice and you’re still a part of the game even when you’re not playing.
“I do hear it [the abuse], but I don’t really think too much about it because you know it’s going to happen.”
Mr Trussell started umpiring in 2008 and is now tasked with training new local umpires, on top of still taking to the field on Saturdays.
“The best thing for me to stay involved is to become an umpire and I’ve been doing it for a long time now and enjoy it,” he said.
“If you can’t play and you have interest in footy definitely come out and umpire, it’s not that bad.
“We do make mistakes, we’re only human.”
Finding younger umpires the goal
Every winter weekend in South Australia, 23 country football leagues run games for juniors and seniors, requiring umpires to officiate.
South Australian National Football League head of umpiring Shane Harris said COVID-19 caused a drop in umpire numbers, with many leagues experiencing either a shortened season or a complete cancellation in 2020.
He said the League would be encouraging regional young people to take over from the long-serving older officials who have supported the leagues for many years.
“We’ve got to be really conscious of the young lad who’s not going to go on with his football in the country and recruit him,” Mr Harris said.
“We’ve maybe got to do some promotions within schools and just outline the benefits of umpiring.
Amelia, as one of the next crop of umpires who will continue to support the RFL, said players and supporters could learn a lot from heading along to an umpires training.
“If you do become involved with the umpire’s squad you get a better appreciation for how much effort the umpires put in.