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‘We make mistakes. But we know that players make a lot more mistakes’


Athletes always remember their professional debut. It’s no different for umpires.

For veteran AFL umpire Simon Meredith, his first game – Carlton versus North Melbourne in 2004 – was a close match at the MCG in front of 36,273 fans. He remembers the first free kick he paid.

“It was a holding-the-ball decision – and the roar of the crowd just calling, ‘baaaallll’,” he says. “There’s nothing that can compare to that noise and passion. I don’t know any other workplace that will give you that.”

Meredith has umpired 422 games (and counting), including 39 finals and six grand finals. But in a wide-ranging discussion on life as an AFL umpire, he says it’s incredibly tough and demanding in a way few people see. In this episode, he talks with Good Weekend senior writer Konrad Marshall, the author of “R.E.S.P.E.C.T”, our cover story looking at umpiring in an era of abuse.

“Contrary to many people’s opinions, we don’t just roll up off the street every weekend,” Meredith says. “We certainly do go through a very rigorous assessment and self-evaluation process.”

Failing that, the public and the media are always willing to offer plenty of unsolicited analysis. “The scrutiny has just gone through the roof,” he says. “It’s constant. It’s 24-hour radio shows, there’s all these magazines and newspapers, and they all need content, so everything gets dissected to the nth degree.”


That willingness to criticise and question umpiring decisions finds its way onto the ground more at a grassroots level than within the AFL, and Meredith says that lack of respect is the main contributing factor in a national shortage of almost 6000 umpires.

“People take up umpiring, and then they end up working in this environment wondering, ‘Why would I do this?’” he says. “We make mistakes. But we know that players make a whole lot more mistakes.”

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