PETER Gray and Zane Osborne are right up there as two of the most passionate football umpires you could find.
Their dedication and enthusiasm towards the role they play within the game for the Sunraysia Football Umpires Association is evident as soon as you interact with them.
Peter turns 68 soon, and started umpiring after an accident, while Zane, 16, who has autism, took up umpiring only a few years ago after having a passion for the football.
There might be more than 50 years age difference between the pair, but they are united in their desire to be the best umpires they can be.
“I moved from Adelaide to Mildura to get out of the city because my third and last cycling accident caused permanent brain damage,” Peter explained.
“Three years later I met my second wife, Bronwyn, who is my best mate, and three years ago I decided to become a goal umpire to give myself something to do, because I used to be a triathlete.
“I tried in 2020 and nothing happened (COVID), last year we got in 12 rounds and I got 10, and so far, this year, touch wood, it’s functioning and I am getting senior games.”
Peter said being a goal umpire fills a void that has been missing for nearly 10 years.
“It gives me the buzz that I miss from racing and training,” he said.
“The last race I finished was in Cairns in June 2013 – it was a half ironman and took me seven hours.
“You miss the adrenalin and you miss the endorphin high afterwards, and this is what goal umpiring gives to me.
“It gives me concentration, which is adrenalin, and afterward it gives me: ‘Ahhh – I enjoyed that!’.”
Despite no glaringly obvious similarities between goal umpiring and triathlons, Peter has found a link.
“With triathlons, everything – with swimming, running and riding – there is one key word: ‘technique’ and it is the same with goal umpiring: ‘technique’.
“Where you follow the ball, where you stand, you’ve got to hold your fingers, if you watch the AFL, goal umpires hold their fingers for three seconds for a goal, the waving of the flag needs to be done properly.”
Peter said one of the things he didn’t realise from having permanent frontal lobe brain damage is that having crowds and noise can put you off. But he has learned to overcome this from doing goal umpiring.
He said he also enjoys the camaraderie, focus and structure that comes with being an umpire.
“It gives me something to do, a reason to get out because at the moment I can’t do any swimming, running or riding, it keeps the brain working, I enjoy the atmosphere being an umpire, I just love it,” he said.
This year Peter is part of the association committee and is also the coordinator of uniforms and said he would like to see more females take up umpiring.
“We have two female teenage boundaries, but having more females take up umpiring would be really good,” he added.
As for what the future holds for Peter as a goal umpire, he said his aim is just to keep doing it, but he does acknowledge there is a person in his life, by the name of Bronwyn, who encourages and supports him in his endeavors as an umpire.
“Without my second wife, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said.
For Zane, it was also a family member, combined with a little encouragement from some existing umpires, who led to his involvement within umpiring.
“When I was 12 I went to watch my sister Milla play junior girls football and they asked if I could collect the ball when it got kicked through the goals,” Zane said.
“Then the next week the umpires asked if I wanted to have a go at goal umpiring and I said yes and have loved it ever since.”
Zane enjoys the many aspects of goal umpiring; the different grounds he umpires at, the different teams he umpires and the fact he can officiate with a different goal umpire at the other end of the field each week.
“Hopefully I get to umpire a senior game soon,” Zane said of his ambition within the discipline.
“And then AFL.
“Goal umpiring is great fun and the other umpires are very helpful and supportive, plus you can earn good pocket money.”
Peter and Zane’s contribution to umpiring are just two of the positives currently happening within the association.
As Nathan Bruinhout, marketing and media co-ordinator, explains, the association is thriving.
“There has been improvement in both our junior and senior umpire numbers so far this season compared to last year,” he said.
“Membership numbers are at its highest since 2019.
“It has been great to see past umpires returning to our association and our juniors umpires either returning or umpiring for the first time.
“Quite a few of our juniors play footy in the morning then go umpire in the afternoon (some even umpire straight after their game) and it is a real testament to their character and their love of the game.”
Nathan said the association has had just under a dozen juniors make their debut as boundary umpires this season, all of who have fitted into the role well and not looked out of place on field.
“The junior umpires have all been developing very well under the guidance of junior umpire manager Josh Lee, boundary umpire coach Tyler Garraway and also assistance from our senior experienced boundaries in Adam Henschke (SFUA president), Jay Smith and myself,” he said.
“It is wonderful to see so many faces at training each week, eager and keen to learn the craft of umpiring.
“We are receiving some wonderful feedback right across the association.”
This Sunday a girl’s football tournament will begin at Number Three Oval.
The association will be showcasing their current junior and senior boundary umpires who have put their hand up to field umpire during the competition.
“They will be paired up with an experienced senior field umpire to help mentor them and help them with their development,” Nathan explained.
He said the association is still in need of some more junior umpires in all disciplines.
Anyone interested can contact Josh Lee for more information on 0427 024 610 or by email: email@example.com
By ZOEY ANDREWS
PICTURED: Marketing and media co-ordinator Nathan Bruinhout (left), junior umpire manager Josh Lee (centre) with junior umpires Remi, Josh, Tyler, Colby and Lachy.