THERE are not many activities you can take up pre-teen and continue until into your 70s and 80s, but football umpiring is one of them.
As proven by a number of boundary umpires who are just starting their journey officiating the match, right through to the likes of Noel Slade, who at 76 is still controlling the flags, umpiring can be enjoyed by almost everyone.
Life members of the Sunraysia Football Umpires Association, Bob Capp and Mr Slade spoke to Mildura Weekly recently about their passion for umpiring, and what has kept them involved for many, many years.
Mr Capp, as a 24 year old, started boundary umpiring in 1965 – but he wasn’t just any boundary umpire.
“I was a top boundary umpire for a long time, number one,” he said.
“No bull dust!”
He can’t remember exactly when he stepped away from duties officially, but said he was still a boundary umpire coach in 2004. He also spent time as Chairman of the Umpires Board.
But it was on field where he did some of his best work and Mr Capp said he did it well.
“I’m not boasting when I say this,” Mr Capp admitted.
“It is just the way it was – I was a showman.
“I’d do the running backwards with the lifting of the legs – everything.
“And I’d get the other boundary to do it with me and we would look good.
“There were only two boundaries back in those days, and we had to bring the ball back to the central umpire and that’s when we would turn it on.”
Mr Capp made such an impression with his professionalism and skill he was asked to go to Melbourne to run boundary in the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1969 and 1970.
He declined the offer because he said he had a good job here and he didn’t know anyone in Melbourne.
It’s a fact, he said, that not many people know.
Mr Capp did originally play football, but gave it up when his Dad brought him a horse.
He returned to the sport when he was about 21, but after becoming the “spare” at both Red Cliffs and Irymple, he decided to take up umpiring.
Looking back he couldn’t imagine his life without it.
“I enjoy the camaraderie,” Mr Capp said, who still frequents training sessions each week.
“They are all good guys, everyone seems to dislike them, but they are all human.
“I enjoyed umpiring very much.
“And, when I first started, I made enough money, about $5.50 for a game of seniors, to fill my car up, my Dad’s 1937 Chev Roadster, to come to Mildura every day for work for a week.”
Mr Capp said a highlight of his time as an umpire was watching John James, a former Brownlow medallist, in action.
“He came up here to coach Robinvale and was a Brownlow medallist at Carlton,” Mr Capp.
“I used to enjoy watching him and one time I seen him go into a pack, and all of a sudden he came out backwards, they were still in there looking for the ball, but it was gone.”
Like Mr Capp, Mr Slade is also a character around the club.
He’s affectionately and better known as “Turtle” and he’s the barman licensee at the club rooms and like every good barman, has the cheekiness and personality to match, along with a few good tales.
He was a bit of a club prankster back in the day, and recalls the time he substituted a AC Cola (a cheaper Kmart brand of drink) for the Coke in the vending machine just for a laugh.
“I used to sell cans for about 50 cents each and I snuck in an AC Cola can, worth about 20 cents, among the Coke,” Mr Slade said.
“The fella who got it, he was mad Coke and went off his head.”
Mr Slade first became an umpire back in 1988 and remains a goal umpire to this day.
“I still do four laps (around the oval) every Tuesday and Thursday night,” Mr Slade said with pride.
“I bet that surprises you, doesn’t it?” he questioned.
Mr Slade estimates he has officiated close to 1000 games over the years – in both the Millewa and Sunraysia football leagues.
“I played football for South Merbein from about 1962 to 1973 or 74,” Mr Slade said.
“I played about 120 games out there and I played in their premiership.
“But then I got a job at a school and I couldn’t train so I became a boundary umpire.”
Mr Slade then went to the “bush”, the Millewa Football League, and became at first a boundary umpire, and later a goal umpire.
Mr Slade laughed that there were some stories about his days officiating bush football back in the day, including a long running joke that he used to hide a bottle behind the goal post to have while the game was on, but he said that was all “dribble”.
Giving bush football away, Mr Slade started following Merbein in the Sunraysia Football and Netball League and was approached by a man named Charlie Cook to umpire again, and it was the push he required.
Mr Slade was bemused to find upon his return that they didn’t have a bar at the club rooms for the umpires.
“They just had an icebox and it was self serve,” Mr Slade said.
“And I said: ‘That doesn’t look good’, and now I have been the barman down there for 32 years.”
But it’s obviously not just the beer that has kept Mr Slade involved with the association for 34 years.
Mr Slade said he plans to football umpire again next year, but he’d recently retired from cricket umpiring after about 40 years.
Cataracts, he said, made it a challenge to officiate both sports in the past.
“That’s another funny story,” Mr Slade laughed.
“I had cataracts last year and I could hardly see up the other end.
“I used to tell everyone my eyes were watering because the wind was in my eyes and they let me stay at one end.
“But I was actually telling them fibs; it was actually the cataracts.”
– ZOEY ANDREWS