Sport

Meet the AFL’s first female field umpire. By Erin Riley.
Credit: AFL MEDIA

The whistleblower: Eleni Glouftsis, 23, AFL umpire

I’ve always loved footy. I grew up next to a football oval, watching footy and having a kick with my dad. Umpiring was just a great way to get involved. 

I started umpiring when I was in year nine, back in 2006, in my junior football league. There was an advertisement in the school daily bulletin and I thought I’d give it a go. I enjoyed the friendships I made, the fitness, the pocket money. I went from there, progressed, and really enjoyed umpiring. From there I went to the SANFL, umpired the under 16s, under 18s, reserves and then, in 2013, I debuted in league over there. I did 19 SANFL games that year and the next year, then moved over to the VFL last year, in 2015.

I work at St Bernard’s College [in Essendon] and I’m a PE and science teacher. It requires a lot of time management. My first year here, it was a little bit challenging, trying to balance it all, but this year I’ve been really comfortable. My school has been really supportive of my umpiring and the boys at St Bernard’s are really great as well, always asking me how I’m going.

Fitness is one of the areas I’m always trying to work on. Since I’ve been here, the coaches have been really great about helping me to set goals and to fit my training in appropriately without overdoing it and getting injured. It gets pretty busy, but it’s about time management. On non-training days, I might go for a run before school, just so I can have that down time in the evening. The more organised you are, the better it works. 

Umpiring in the NAB Cup in February was fantastic. I get nervous before every game, but this one was a bit more special, I guess you could say. I was lucky to have my family all over from Adelaide to watch it. I knew the oval well as we train there, so all those aspects were taken out of it. I just tried to focus on the game and I think I did as well as I could.

One thing that’s been really key in my umpiring is to remember that you’re there to help the game. At the end of the day, nobody’s there to watch you umpire. If you go unnoticed, you’ve done a really good job. 

I’ve had lots of good mentors along the way. Back in the SANFL, it was Mick Avon, who at the time was an AFL umpire based in South Australia. He was a really great person to look up to, to see what he did on the training track. I’ve had really fantastic role models and coaches in Shane Harris and, over here, Hayden Kennedy and Steve McBurney, guys who have done hundreds of AFL games.

Umpiring probably has changed the way I watch footy. You’re always thinking, ‘What’s the umpire doing now, what’s the decision they’re paying?’ I’m always trying to learn from them as well. But when it’s a really good game, you get sucked into it. Even if you don’t follow a team in particular, you’re hoping for the underdog to win or for it to be a really good challenge until the end.

I think the development of the women’s league is fantastic. I loved playing footy. I think it’s just fantastic that the girls now have a pathway they can go down and really make it to that elite level. It’s fantastic for the game.

I miss South Australia. All my friends and family are back there. The first year was challenging: moving over, changing school and changing my VFL group. I’d been with the SANFL for eight or nine years, so it was a big adjustment. But everyone here, at the VFL, the AFL and at my school, have just been so supportive. This year, I’m feeling really comfortable in all my different groups and I really feel like I belong here now. 

Footy is so unique compared with other sports. You’ve got basketball and soccer and other sports that are big in Australia as well, but there’s nothing like Aussie Rules. There are so many things that are unique about the game: the size of the oval, the ways the players play, that you’re allowed to tackle while still being restricted. I think the way the game is played is so much fun to watch.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Tennis: Fed Cup – Australia v United States

Saturday and Sunday, 11am (AEST), Pat Rafter Arena, Brisbane

• AFL: Essendon v Geelong

Saturday, 1.45pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

• NRL: Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Sunday, 2pm (AEST), GIO Stadium, Canberra

• Netball: NSW Swifts v Adelaide Thunderbirds

Sunday, midday (AEST), Sydney Olympic Park

• Motorsport: Formula One Chinese Grand Prix

Sunday, 4pm (AEST), Shanghai International Circuit

Soccer: A-League elimination finals – Melbourne City v Perth Glory

Sunday, 5pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 16, 2016 as "The whistleblower". Subscribe here.

Erin Riley
is a writer and sports historian from Sydney.