While footy umpires can be targets of criticism and abuse on any given Saturday, it’s the potential feedback he might get on a Sunday that concerns Leongatha Uniting Church minister Rev Paul Bauer.
Paul has picked up the flags again this season to be a goal umpire, something he has done for 25 years with various leagues, both metropolitan and bush – roughly the same time he has been in training or placement as a minister.
He started out as a boundary umpire but soon decided that being behind the posts was his calling.
“I thought my real niche was as goal umpire because I like the quick sprints to get under the flight of the ball,” he said.
While it might seem a relatively straightforward job to judge whether the ball has gone through for a goal or a point, Paul said those who try it, including field umpires, soon discover otherwise.
“Everyone says ‘it’s harder than you think’,” he said.
Some of the most difficult aspects are judging whether a ball off the boot has been touched by another player, or whether the trajectory of a high kick that goes over the posts makes it a goal or not.
Paul nominates the 2016 Gippsland league grand final as a game where he particularly felt the pressure of umpiring because it featured the hometown Leongatha side.
“I was having nightmares that I was going to cost them the grand final and get run out of town. Thankfully it was all straightforward,” he said.
A good day of umpiring means Paul won’t get noticed much at all but it doesn’t always work out like that.
“You get a bit of fun from the crowd. I remember a game in Glenorchy, Tasmania, when I got glared at by the players and crowd for calling a goal that they thought wasn’t one,” he said.
“So five minutes later when one goes blatantly through for a point they say ‘That’s close enough for you to give it a goal, isn’t it ump?’
“You get a lot of funny comments but I’ve never had anything where I felt like I cost a team a game.”
Paul, who coaches other umpires, said his years of officiating have taught him some valuable life lessons.
“Whether you’ve made the right decision or wrong decision, you’ve got to stick by it and move on – you can’t dwell,” he said.
“Also teamwork. People just watching a game and not knowing anything about it wouldn’t know how all the umpires, myself and the other goal umpire, how all of us are working as a team. How we are trying to help each other out.”
Paul said even though he was sometimes the target of players expressing their frustration, there were other situations he dreaded more.
“Sometimes you know players are just venting, they’ll tell you to f—off or they’ll flare up and yell at you that you’ve made a stuff-up,” he said.
“But after a sermon I could get an 80-year-old woman saying ‘Gee I didn’t get much out of that today’.
“That would probably hurt me worse, that’s harsher than a 25-year-old swearing at me.”