WHEN he made his debut as one of the goal umpires in the seniors for the Sunraysia Football Umpires Association last weekend, Zane Osborne became the youngest official to carry out that role at that level locally.

Such was the confidence and trust in Zane, he was allocated to the game of the day, the match between Irymple and Wentworth, and according to Gavin Slade, coach of the goal umpires, the youngster absolutely nailed it.

Zane, who has autism, is just 16 years old, and the decision was made for him to make his debut in the seniors after increasingly impressive performances in the Under 18s and Reserve competitions.

“Zane was selected to umpire last weekend through all his dedication and hard work,” Gavin said.

“He has shown rapid improvement throughout the year.

“At the season start he had all the basics down pat, he just had to work on a couple of the skills.

“Week in, week out, he would be given feedback and he would just absorb it.”

Gavin said it got to Round 10 and it was decided Zane would have a bit of pressure put on him, and so he umpired with the coach of the goal umpires himself.

“His Dad told him: ‘You have to perform today, you are with your coach’, and he did,” Gavin added.

“He performed really well that day, it was one of the best performances I have seen all year and I thought: ‘Well this kid is now ready for senior footy.’

“I had a chat with his family to make sure they thought he was ready, and they thought he was.”

The association decided to make the announcement at training last Thursday night and Mildura Weekly was invited along as the club room was packed with members and umpires, along with some of Zane’s family.

Keeping the secret from Zane did prove challenging, and when he realised the allocations for last weekend should have been made the Tuesday before, he started asking questions.

His Dad, Michael, said not only did he have to delete an email he received advising him of Zane’s appointment from his iPad, he also had to make sure it was deleted from the trash, because Zane was a man on a mission to find out what game he was umpiring last weekend.”We had a hard time keeping it from him because he had been on our case all week,” Zane’s mum, Kelly, said.

“I had to tell him that I thought they were short on umpires so they were still figuring it out,” Michael added.

When the announcement was finally made last Thursday night you could feel the emotion in the room.

The ‘Weekly grabbed a quick word Zane after and he said he was excited and happy to be officiating seniors.

He said it would be business as usual though before the game, takeaway on the Friday night while watching the football on television, before his chance on the big stage came Saturday.

The dedicated youngster was eager to get back to training though, so he left it up to Michael and Kelly to explain how he had taken up goal umpiring.

Zane’s been officiating in the SFUA for just 18 months and has aspirations to reach AFL level.

“He’s always been obsessed with football,” Kelly said.

“But he has never played football,” Michael added.

“His sister was playing in the girls junior league and they didn’t have goal umpires,” Kelly continued.

“He filled in for probably six weeks there and then the umpire was very impressed and they gave him his first flags,” Michael said.

“Because he watched a lot of football, he watched how the goal umpires would do it, and he was professional,” Kelly said.

So began his infatuation and not long after Zane joined the SFUA.

Ahead of his debut on Saturday Kelly said she was feeling nervous for Zane, but also excited and really proud.

“We wouldn’t let him do it if we didn’t think he was ready for it,” Kelly added.

“I don’t think Zane himself gets nervous because with his autism, he knows what he has to do,” Michael said.

“When he first started I used to sit behind the goals and tell him what it was, just in case he made a mistake, but after the third game I just walked away and now we just watch.”

Not only has it given him a hobby and a passion, but Zane’s parents agree it has given him structure, from training on Tuesday and Thursday nights to getting his uniform ready ahead of the weekend.

Kelly said she is glad Zane has found a hobby he can continue for the rest of his life.

And if Saturday’s performance was anything to go on, Zane has an exciting and long journey ahead of him with the flags.

“He performed really well on Saturday, just as I expected,” Gavin said.

“Nothing phases Zane, although his Dad and Mum did say he didn’t get much sleep on the Thursday night because he was on Cloud Nine.

“But on the day it was just a normal Saturday for him and you can tell by the way he performed, it was just a normal day.”

Umpiring with 1200 game plus umpiring veteran John Maas, Gavin said Zane had most of the play in the first three quarters and said it was pretty “full on”.

“He definitely rose to the occasion and did really well,” Gavin added.

But is Zane going to get the opportunity in seniors again this season?

“For sure,” Gavin said, without hesitation.

– ZOEY ANDREWS