IN his 36th year of umpiring country football, umpiring stalwart Barry Lawrence is set to tick off his 900th game with the Latrobe Valley Umpires Association this Saturday.

Lawrence will step out for the occasion when Morwell takes on Warragul in Round 7 of the Gippsland League at Morwell Recreation Reserve.

Reflecting on the journey, Lawrence can still remember how things were back when he started.

“When I began umpiring in 1989, the VFL were banishing umpires to the bush and we would have one of their umpires and one of ours in all Latrobe Valley senior games each weekend,” he said.

“We had a large compliment of umpires and if you didn’t have a game, you had to ring the secretary on Saturday morning to see if there were any changes.

“I, like most, trained four or five days a week and if we didn’t turn up to training to learn our craft, we didn’t get a game.”

On the field, Lawrence has been involved in a number of senior Grand Finals in the Gippsland and Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League, as well a VFL Under 16 carnival, and a number of marquee and umpire milestone games.

However, he believed his biggest role has been off the field.

“I’ve taken on a number of roles in an off-field capacity over the years, president, director of umpiring, junior development, committee and social committee, and (I) have been the boundary umpire coach for 18 years,” he said.

“The main reason I have kept involved has been the people you meet in football, my love for the panel, its members and country football, and the massive support I have had from my family.”

The work Lawrence has put into off-field work has been recognised with life membership to the LVUA in 1998, outstanding services to the LVUA, and he even has a perpetual shield named in his honour.

Recognition: Barry Lawrence, with wife Janine, receiving an award for his years of service to football from AFL Victoria. Photograph supplied

“As a coach I have enjoyed mentoring and training many young girls and boys taking to the field for their first game and watching local lads I’ve had the pleasure of working with and helping to develop running on the big stage with the VFL or AFL,” he said.

The level of football in the Latrobe Valley grew in Lawrence’s early days, with clubs opting to recruit VFL stars to increase the level of competition.

From an umpiring perspective too, Lawrence has worked with a number of big names in Latrobe Valley umpiring circles.

“I have been fortunate enough to work with some very talented and committed people in umpiring, Les Ponton, Peter Box, Tim Pianta, Rex McGowan and Bryan Sultana, in an off-field capacity. Darren Fletcher, Ian Green, Steve Buhagiar, Sean Maxwell, James Heland and the long-serving Don Wight and Peter North, and many other umpiring friends in an on-field capacity, and (I) have the blessing of my family to keep going,” he said.

Umpiring panels are currently struggling to cover their full list of games each week, and the LVUA welcome anyone, male or female, that wants to take on umpiring.

“It’s not as daunting as it looks, there are a lot of support programs, very friendly people and panels provide great coaching and on and off field support,” Lawrence said.

“Teams and leagues are very supportive. Every time we cross that white line it’s all about the game, and the players there won’t get a game without umpires, so I urge people to support their clubs by being positive towards the players and umpires, taking on roles to support country football and netball, and seriously look at giving umpiring a go.

“You meet great people, learn new skills, earn money and it looks good on your resume.”

Incredible: Barry Lawrence will step onto the field for his 900th game this weekend. Photograph supplied