In the background of the 2022 Bendigo Bank Western Border Football League season has been the battle to attract enough umpiring numbers to keep the game alive.
In addition to issues such as the gradual decline of participation, plus the growing average age of umpires, reports of abuse from the ground and the stands have not helped the situation and even forced some to give up the whistle for good.
These issues came to a head when West Gambier Football Club president Shane Giddings made a public outcry of support to the umpires last month.
In a personal message on a Facebook post which caught widespread attention Giddings cried “I and we as a club will not be tolerating this behaviour anymore” in reference to umpire abuse.
South East Football Umpires League coordinator David Carraill said the call of support from Giddings had helped, while the SANFL has also provided more of a helping hand in recent weeks to ensure the officials are protected and supported.
“The abuse side of things was highlighted with “Fridge’s” (Shane Giddings) call and then we had a meeting with the tribunal,” Carraill said.
“We were a bit deluded after one player got reported and was only given a reprimand, so we wanted to know what was going on.
“They showed us under the SANFL Community Football Guidelines that umpire abuse was labelled as a low category infringement, so that’s why their hands were tied.
“That was frustrating and just a week after “Fridge’s” letter, one umpire was given a mouthful when they were walking off the field.
“But now the wheels are in motion and Michael Mourbey has assured us that he is making calls to people up in Adelaide to get that (the tribunal process) changed next year.”
Also last month Carraill penned an exclusive story to The SE Voice signalling an S.O.S. around the Limestone Coast pleading for more umpires.
But now the numbers situation has stabilised to such an extent that some boundary umpires are even being turned away with the required number of appointments all filled.
Carraill said the boundary umpiring stocks had been healthy after a successful recruitment drive, while even the amount of central officials is making his life of dishing out appointments easier.
“The boundary numbers are definitely good at the moment,” he said.
“We have worked out the Under 12’s has been a good group to target for recruiting and we did well out at West and then word quickly got around and we picked up some more from the other clubs.
“For the seniors it has just been a case of availability.
“Over the last two weeks we have had every senior umpire available and some who usually do A Grade did Under 18’s.
“We have just picked up a new field umpire fresh from playing their 250th game as well.”
These revelations are certainly welcome as players and umpires alike brace themselves for the closing chapter of the 2022 football season.