If you don’t mind, umpire!

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THE MEN IN WHITE are no longer in white but they still get treated the same by the spectators. LAWRENCE MONEY has some kind words to say for the beleaguered umps:

FOLKLORE HAS IT that a group of footy fans once took a survey of umpires and found not one who had been born in wedlock.

Umps cop a lot of that sort of thing. In 1986, I wrote about a group of supporters who placed an ad in a country newspaper, thanking the umpire for his services during the local league’s grand final and reminding him that he had left his white cane in the dressing room.

A reader once rang my Herald column to say he had been sprung at the footy. He had been yelling abuse at the “white galah” when he suddenly noticed his parish priest a few seats away. “Oh sorry, Father,” he said. “I’ll come to confession tomorrow.” “Well bring that bloody umpire with you,” barked the cleric.

The 2017 AFL finals were only a week old when an ump copped it again. Umpire Chris Donlon paid a free to Luke Shuey in the dying seconds of the Eagles-Power game, and Shuey kicked a winning goal. Cue endless TV replays of the incident and fierce debate over whether the tackle was too high under the rules. Enter the AFL umpiring department which gave Donlon’s call the thumbs-up. End of debate.

Poor old umps. How many footy fans have actually met one of these persecuted creatures? I can tell you, it’s surprising. Many years ago I compered the annual grand final eve dinner of the then-VFL umpires and was astonished to find what a splendid bunch of blokes they were. What regret I felt about my past comments from the grandstand.  It was so unnerving for a footy fan to find he likes umpires. Akin to befriending a parking inspector or tax inspector.


Our group, a battle-scarred cluster of Melbourne Demons, is habitually tough on umps. Like all footy tragics, we regularly point to the scoreboard stats when the team goes bad. “See! 20 frees to them, five to us! Unbelievable!”

Secretly, of course, we realise that it is the inept performance of our boys that led to that imbalance but the truth goes unspoken.

I doubt the umps take much notice of fans’ blinkered blathering. At that long-ago dinner, one told me brightly: “Actually, Lawrence, we’re the only ones who can organise a grand final function with any confidence.”

“How so?” I queried.

“No matter how the game goes,” he said. “we always win.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

The umps by Gordon Napier.
The umps by Gordon Napier.


Basil Zempilas, channelling Dennis Cometti (2017): “The West Coast Eagles, 31 years in the competition. Looking through the record book there are some famous names in that time. Four Wilsons, three Materas, two Selwoods, and this year a Partington and a Petrie. It’s like Christmas.”

Jack Dyer (1985): “The scramble of players is getting very scrambly now.”

Peter Le Grand (1986): “Stoneham’s kicked the ball a long way but it hasn’t gone very far.”

Lou Richards (1982): “Kink read the play beautifully and his left foot went right through the centre.”

Ted Whitten (1985): “He’s had a laceration stitched into his head.”

Jack Dyer (1981): “Diamond Creek was a long way away once.”

Peter Landy (1984): “I’d hate to make the deciding decision.”

* Warning to all football commentators: the winner of the 2017 Boot In Mouth Award will be announced by Lawrence Money on the Coodabeens show on 774 on Grand Final morning.


Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.



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