Beechworth Football Club leaps to defence of club umpire banned for season

TOUGH JOB: Philip Surrey says it's little wonder clubs struggle to find volunteers.
TOUGH JOB: Philip Surrey says it's little wonder clubs struggle to find volunteers.

Beechworth Football and Netball Club would like to take this opportunity to address the media report about an umpire being banned for the 2018 season.

Firstly we would like to say that we unreservedly support our umpire – and we support all of our loyal volunteers that do so much for our club.

We were extremely disappointed in the stance that the tribunal took in this case.

The facts of this game are that a Beechworth player was hit from behind the side in what could only be called a coward’s punch. He was knocked semi-conscious in that incident and the Wodonga Saints player had to attend hospital for treatment for the injury he sustained to his hand during that punch. For these actions the Saints player was given a four-week suspension, with two weeks suspended – effectively giving him a two-week ban for knocking a 14-year-old out on the field.

Our umpire believed that he was acting in the interests of the Beechworth player’s safety in removing the Saints player from the immediate vicinity of the injured player, who was his son. He did that by placing his hands on the player's shoulders and moving him to one side. The Saints player immediately left the field.

There was another further incident later in the match where the umpire again put his arms around the arms Saints player to remove him from what he considered an escalating and volatile situation. He did that to stop any further flare-ups towards both Beechworth and Saints junior players.

Our umpire had glowing letters of support from other clubs in the league where he had officiated and has done for three years without incident.

There was history between these two teams this year where a Saints player was cited in the first round game, where he had pinned a Beechworth player on the ground, punching him multiple times. In that incident the same Saints umpire that officiated in this match, who gave evidence against our umpire, physically restrained and removed his own player from the field of play.  He did so without any reproach from his own club nor the league. The inconsistency is obvious.

After these incidents in round 15 our umpire was subjected to threats of physical violence, and disgraceful abuse by the Saints supporters.

Both club’s supporters had become very vocal and the situation seemed to be escalating quickly. At the Wodonga ground, Martin Park, the officials and supporters of both teams are extremely close together which only made matters worse.

In a previous season, in an under-17s match, a Saints player was given the maximum penalty for striking a Beechworth player, the result being a Beechworth player being knocked unconscious. These are some of the elements of junior football today.

It is also disappointing that at no time during this process was any concern expressed by the tribunal nor the Wodonga Saints for the welfare of our junior player.

We also believe that it is the umpire’s duty of care to all players and to ensure their safety on the field – that is their jurisdiction. We have also been told that, in fact, they may be open to litigation if they don’t.

The TDFL Code of Conduct for Officials states that:

  • Be responsible for the conduct of players, spectators and other officials
  • Emphasise the spirit of the game
  • Be consistent, objective and courteous when making decisions
  • Set the example by role model behaviour, which is positive and supportive and demonstrates integrity and fairness
  • Accept responsibility for the safety and welfare of players, umpires and other officials above all else
  • Respect the rights, dignity and worth of all participants regardless of their gender, ability, cultural background or religion.
  • Promote respect for opponents and condemn unsporting behaviour off field.

As a club will be writing to the TDFL requesting they provide umpires for the under-14 and under-17 games against the Wodonga Saints for at least the next couple of seasons. We will be doing that because we will not be able to get volunteer parent umpires to officiate these games. The result of the tribunal hearing and the league stance on this issue will make unlikely that any parent volunteer would subject themselves to those types of actions and penalty.

It is difficult to get volunteers at any time without this type of backlash against volunteers. We think that this decision has the potential to see the end of volunteer umpires in the junior ranks. People just don’t want to put themselves through this type of condemnation.

I have been involved in football for over 45 years in both the Ovens and King and TDFL leagues. I have played 357 games and umpired nearly 250. I have been proud to volunteer and support club duties as required but I will not umpire junior games against the Wodonga Saints.

Our club is very disappointed in these events and future ability for volunteers to continue to fill these roles in junior games.

We will also be asking who is legally responsible for any actions in matches officiated by volunteers.

What is the AFL North East Border policy? Is it the case that club umpires are not to intervene in any melee or skirmish for fear of reprisal? If they don’t intervene, what if there is a serious injury as a result of them not intervening? Who is legally liable? It is a sad case of putting the fox in charge of the hen house gate.

Philip Surrey, Beechworth vice-president