By Kirra Grimes

THE “struggling” South Gippsland Umpires Association has renewed its call for new recruits ahead of the 2019 football season.
Committee member Scott Hillis first spoke out about a shortage of field umpires midway through the 2018 season and he told the Sentinel-Times last week there was still a need to boost numbers to enable the association to properly cover upcoming games in the Alberton and Gippsland football leagues.
“Our recruitment’s taken a hit in the past couple of years,” Scott said.
“At the moment, we’ve got 30 running umpires and that’s just not enough to cover it.
“We want ideally three for every senior game. We don’t want to ‘double up’ like we did last season, with umpires doing a thirds game in the morning and then having to wait around to do seniors in the afternoon.
“Eight quarters of footy can start to get pretty long! And we don’t want umpires to get tired. Because that’s when you can get not the best quality decisions.”
The association recently started weekly training sessions in Leongatha, inviting anyone interested in keeping fit and earning a bit of cash to come along and see what umpiring’s all about.
“You can start at the age of 12 or 13 and keep going right up until you can’t run anymore,” Scott said.
“Young ones work their way up from boundary to field umpiring, and from junior to senior games, because you need an understanding of the game and how football works.
“I started umpiring when I was 16 because I was looking for a job. And I wasn’t getting paid to play footy!
“Whereas boundary umpires get $55 to $65 a game and field umpires get $120 to $160 for a senior game, which is what I was doing by the time I was 17.
“And nowadays, it’s tax free money: what you earn is what you take home.
“But the best thing about it for me is the camaraderie and the banter with the players.
“We used to get abused heavily but that’s really dropped off. There’s a mutual respect on and off the field. The worst is junior games when parents get a bit too excited on the sidelines!”
Scott said ex-footy players would be particularly welcome additions to the association’s roster, as their knowledge of the rules would enable them to be trained up to umpire a senior game within five to six weeks.
“Anyone who played footy last year or the year before and wants to stay involved in football – stay involved by umpiring. It’s a great way to keep fit and it’s non-contact, so if guys have done knees or shoulders – the likelihood of being injured is pretty low.
“And you do make your mark on the game. People say things like ‘it’s the best seat in the house’ but you’re not just a spectator; you’re an important part of the game.”
With plenty of time to get fit before the season starts, and a role for every age and experience level, why not head down to a training session?
Sessions are held every Wednesday night at 6pm at Scorpion Park (Horn Street), Leongatha during preseason and move to the Leongatha velodrome in March. A free dinner is provided.