Each time I watch the AFL on TV it amazes me how quick the reactions are by umpires when they detect a free kick etc.
I guess its the same with all sports but Australian Football umpires are right on the spot, and in the big games, there are three of them!
Of course, like players, the game hasn’t always been particularly kind to umpires over the years but in more recent times umpiring as a discipline has become more professional and their role much more appreciated.
In 1973 Rod Humphries was a feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and he authored a great piece about umpires and their training.
He began with:
“Any casual observer who happens to look in at Erskineville Oval between 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock on Wednesday nights is likely to make a quick retreat to the Park View (hotel), just across the street.
At one end of the ground a team of deaf and dumb Rugby League players ginger their way through training, while at the other end an assorted bunch of men spend much of their training running BACKWARDS.”
Umpires in Sydney have used many training grounds over the years. Erskineville Oval, Moore Park, Reg Bartley Oval at Rushcutters Bay, Fraser Park at Sydenham and Trumper Park, just to name a few.
And they have had their share of characters in their number whether it be field, goal, boundary, their coaches and/or officials. None though, could have been a more controversial character than ‘Black’ Jack Armstrong.
He played first grade in Sydney for over 15 years after he moved with his family from Coolamon in 1943. Although the family settled in Ashmore Street, Erskineville, a stones throw from Erskineville Oval, Jack couldn’t get a game with the the nearby Newtown Club who were on the verge of a seven consecutive premiership run, so, along with his brother, he signed with the South Sydney club.
Jack spent six years with South before moving back to Newtown. He was appointed captain-coach of the club in 1953 a position he held for three years. Then he moved out west and played with the Liverpool club where he was also coach. In 1960 he moved back to captain and coach Newtown then, in 1961, he gave away playing and began to umpire.
So here was a player who had probably been reported more times than any other Sydney footballer at that time who was now umpiring Sydney first grade. If you listen to our podcast on the Jack Dean interview, he says that Jack was the hardest and most difficult oppenent he had opposed in his 20 year history.
jack’s umpiring career only lasted five years but during that time he officiated in club, final and interstate matches. Lke his brother Joe ten years before, Jack umpired the 1964 Sydney first grade grand final. Then went back to the South Sydney Club at 44 years of age as captain-coach in 1967. Of course he was reported again but used as his defence at the tribunal, “insanity”. He got off.
Humphries went on his article about umpires – and Jack, telling the readers “Jack was umpiring a third grade game before doing first grade and had cause to send the coach, a first grade player off the field for abusing him.”
“We were all in the same dressing room and he had a shot at me. I told him if I wasn’t an umpire I would do something about it. He said I didn’t have the guts”
“It was a sweet left hook’ Jack said laughing “and they had to drag him out of the mens’ toilet trough…”
So as you can imagine, he was one hell of an umpire! and during his time, he knew almost everyone in Sydney football certainly during the 1950s and 60s.
In 1971 a car pinned him up against a brick wall which eventually led to the removal of his leg but he never lost his passion for the game.