CENTRAL umpire John Norton joins a rare club when he officiates his 300th senior footy match at Maryborough’s Barkers Oval in Princes Park this Saturday.
Norton marks the milestone in the Bendigo Bank Bendigo Football Netball League clash between Maryborough and Gisborne.
His run to 300 was to have been marked in the clash between Kyneton and Gisborne, but that round was called off because of COVID lockdown.
As a 300-game umpire, Norton’s name will be inscribed in gold letters on the BUA honour board.
A highlight will be officiating the Magpies and Bulldogs clash with Dale Caldwell.
“We have become great friends over the years,” Norton said.
“To be umpiring with Dale in my 300th senior game means a lot.”
Since he took up umpiring with the BUA in 2008, Norton has made thousands of decisions and called “all-clear” a million times or more.
The trek to 300 takes in senior matches across the Bendigo, Heathcote District, Loddon Valley and North Central competitions.
Among the many highs were the Bendigo FNL senior grand finals of 2013, ’14, ’16, and ’18.
He has umpired in three North Central and two Loddon Valley league grand finals and seven inter-league contests.
Norton said there had been many within the Bendigo Umpires Association who played a part in his development and staying on as long as he has.
“I was never any good at playing footy, but I enjoyed being part of the game.”
There have been plenty of challenges along the way, but he looks forward to umpiring every Saturday.
“Geoff Millar was my first official coach at Bendigo Umpires.
“He was always so positive and a huge influence.
“It was a little daunting when I went to my first training session with the umpires as I didn’t know anyone there, but Geoff did a lot to help build my confidence, as did the other senior umpires.”
For his first senior game, Norton was teamed up with Eric Baker.
“Again he was so positive and encouraging.
“Jason Seipolt was another umpire who gave great feedback and helped me along the way.
“Dean Goodridge as umpires coach is fantastic with his feedback and urging umpires about doing the best they can.
“We will never get it right all the time, but we are always trying.”
Norton said a key as an umpire was not to dwell on mistakes.
“In senior footy the pace of the game is so fast you don’t have a lot of time to think about an error. It’s move on to the next contest, the next decision.”
Lockdowns for Covid, no matches and no training has also tested the resilience of umpires.
“It’s been a season so different to any other,” Norton said.
“The feedback from coaches is so important.”
This season, AFL central umpire John Howorth, who first began with the Bendigo Umpires Association has watched a lot of Bendigo senior matches via video and provided suggestions and tips to improve via on-line meetings.
As one of the more experienced umpires, Norton also plays a mentoring role.
“At least once a month, or more often if I can, I will umpire a Bendigo junior game and help an umpire who may be in his first or second season.”
Fitness has played a big part in Norton’s umpiring journey.
“Running was something I have done from a young age. It’s incredible the amount of running you do in a game each week.
“When I started umpiring I didn’t realise how important a pre-season would be.
“It’s important to have a rest between seasons, but also do some running when you can so it’s not as difficult when pre-season does roll around.”
For Norton it’s not all about footy as he is a husband to Janele and father to Tascha and Bailey.
“Their support is amazing.”
As an umpire, Norton said it’s not all about the pay packet.
“It’s a love for the game and wanting to be involved in some way that’s kept me going season after season.”
It’s a bond shared by many in footy, whether as players, coaches, administrators, volunteers, or umpires.
Written by Nathan Dole.