900 games between the big sticks

Can't stop, won't stop: Peter North will umpire his 900th game when Morwell meets Sale this weekend. File photograph





UMPIRING for more than 40 years and taking part in 900 games is not something that comes around all too often.

But this Saturday, on August 5, when Morwell host Sale in the Gippsland League, goal umpire Peter North will strut out for his 900th game.

“It’s been a long time coming … I’ve loved every minute of it,” North said.

The nerves are kicking-in, and North looks forward to the day with his long-time umpire mates.

“You’re always a little bit toey every game you do, until you get that first decision,” he said.

“I’ve planned to be umpiring with a lot of my long-time umpiring friends, it’ll be a good day and we’re going out to dinner that night.”

North didn’t believe he would be able to make it this far into an umpiring career, but now over 40 years into the trek, he’s not looking back.

“I started off as a volunteer goal umpire with Morwell (Football Club), back in the late 70s,” he said.

“I moved over to the LVUA in 1982 and have been there ever since.”

Over his 41 years with the Latrobe Valley Umpires Association, North has been able to take part in 24 senior Grand Finals, primarily within the Gippsland League, but also within the North and Mid Gippsland Football-Netball Leagues.

From his career, North shared two of his greatest memories, both deriving from Grand Finals.

“My first senior Grand Final was in 1985, Morwell played Traralgon, Morwell were five goals down at three quarter time and kicked 10 goals in the last quarter and won the match,” North reminisced.

“It was a really big day.”

Also high on the list was Maffra’s 2009 Grand Final triumph in the most dramatic circumstances.

“In 2009, it was Maffra versus Traralgon, another senior Grand Final,” North said.

“The siren went and Maffra was behind, then they had a shot for goal 40 (metres) out, this time it was at my end, and their player Nick Horsford, he had a shot after the siren and kicked the goal, which gave Maffra the victory.

“I had a bit of a tear to me eye I must admit, because I was quite emotional about it, it’s such an exciting thing.”

His passion for the game is evident, and shows how much of an effect football can have on people, even those with no involvement on those playing.

He holds four senior Morwell Tigers premierships close to his heart, officiating in a game where the Tigers have won – the club where he started it all.

“I’ve done four flags that Morwell have won, senior flags, 1985, ’88, ’93 and 2013,” he said.

Speaking of the Morwell Tigers, North noted that he has loved seeing people come and go through the clubs, mentioning that he had umpired for three generations of the Macfarlane family.

Stretching over 40 years, North has umpired Gary, his son Jason and more recently in today’s game, Burkeley, all playing for Morwell’s seniors.

How often can you say that.

And his love for the game doesn’t appear to be separating any time soon, as he hopes to continue between the big sticks for the next couple of seasons.

“Goal umpiring doesn’t take too much out of you … couple of more years will probably see me through,” North said.

“We have some young fellas coming through who look like maybe doing the big Grand Final this year.”

It’s only natural that as the years go by, the game develops, and when the game develops, those involved have to adjust.

And that doesn’t just mean the players, as umpires also have to change their ways of thinking to keep the game in order.

“The game’s a lot faster now than what it was 30, 40 years ago,” North said.

“The standard is probably down a little bit, because there is less people playing.

“Overall, the umpiring is just as good, and having the extra umpire out there in the middle makes it a lot easier.”

Thankfully for North, not much has changed for goal umpires at a local level.

“Goal umpires haven’t changed at all, one good thing is that the goal posts are getting much higher … so high that you shouldn’t make a mistake!” he continued.

“It’s the best seat in the house for football.”

Just like the game, the Latrobe Valley Umpire Association has too developed.

No matter the sway or size of the group, the LVUA have always been inclusive and competitive.

“30-odd years ago we had a heap of umpires; field, goal and boundary, we probably had about 26 goal umpires,” North said.

“We’re very competitive to get a Grand Final.

“These days it’s a lot less competitive, probably still competitive but the numbers have dropped a bit.”

North described what has kept him in it.

“I just love the game,” he said.

“I was no good as a footballer, I was a shorty, they used to call me Shorty North.

“So I never had any ability as a footballer, so I got involved with Morwell Football Club as a volunteer.”

It was an easy decision for North to stay once he was recruited, with a number of factors in favour of umpiring.

“The mateship and the friends you make, not only through your umpiring fraternity but through the football clubs as well, that’s been a real buzz over the years,” he said.

Make sure to look out for ‘Northy’ when he struts out for game number 900, standing between the goal posts when Morwell play Sale in the Gippsland League this Saturday.