A Fortunate 1000 For Rod Clarke
When Rod Clarke answered an advertisement calling for WAAFL Field Umpires in 1987, little did he know that his phone call would be the start of a journey that has led him to achieve one of the rare milestones in Australian Rules football.
This Saturday, 25th July, Rod will umpire his 1000th game of community football, officiating in the B-grade game between Hamersley Carine and Swan Athletic.
Rod developed an attachment to Australian rules football in the mid 60’s when he played for North Innaloo and Karrinyup Junior Football Clubs, before coaching Tuart Hill under 12’s in 1976, a team that had Darren Bewick (Essendon League player) running around in.
Rod returned to Aussie Rules in 1984 when he played as a ruckman for two seasons with Girrawheen in the WAAFL. The lure of field umpiring in 1987 was to combine all his passions into one major interest. Rod saw field umpiring as an opportunity to combine his love, fitness and understanding of Aussie Rules into one package.
In 1987 WAAFL umpires had no official uniform, but they had a code of dress, white shirt, wrist bands and shorts and black socks. The “ACME Thunderer” whistle was the tool of the trade. (This brand of whistle is one thing that has stood the test of time).
From 1987 to 1994 Rod umpired for eight seasons as a single field umpire in the WAAFL. In those days the field umpire was the sole WAAFL representative on game day, so not only did he go to a game to umpire, but he was the league’s liaison officer, problem solver and game day trouble shooter as well. By the end of 1994 Rod had umpired 175 WAAFL games, predominantly as a single umpire and his body was telling him it was ready for retirement. The news that in 1995 all WAAFL panel appointed games would be umpired under a two umpire system was the good fortune that saved Rod from retirement. Rod continued as a field umpire in the two umpire system until the end of the 2006 season. After 20 seasons of field umpiring, Rod had finally hit “the wall” of running and was satisfied that his panel umpiring appointments of 516 field , plus 20 boundary appearances would be his final tally of games.
Rod was approached in 2007 and accepted a role with the WA Football Commission to manage the Level 1 accreditation of community field umpires. Rod went to preseason training at the start of the 2007 season and while there walked past a man who amicably acknowledged him, and introduced himself as “Terry Tomlinson, goal umpires coach.” Soon after Rod looked at the group of goal umpires who where eagerly waiting for night one of training to commence, he especially remembers seeing the happy face of the late, Doug Frame. Rod thought to himself right there and then that he wanted to become a goal umpire. He rang Terry Tomlinson the next day and told him he wanted to do goal umpiring and to seek his endorsement to learn to become a panel goal umpire. Terry assisted Rod to learn the craft of goal umpiring, and with persistence, patience, encouragement and support has been, and still is, a steady influence that has seen Rod achieve his1000 panel appointed community umpire games milestone. During his umpiring career so far he has officiated in 27 grand finals; 7 field, 7 boundary and 13 goal.
Rod recently walked out on to the field with an A grade squad of eight umpires (three field, three boundary and two goal), this is very different from his days of being the sole umpire at a game. Player lists these days consist of computer spread sheets and all league communication is done on an ipad. This compares with Rod’s experiences when players were either selected at random for ID checks, or on occasions full team ID had to occur before the game stared. All match day paper work was then placed in an envelope that had to be put in a letter box on the way home from the game.
Rod’s development from coaches has changed a lot over the years. When Rod started training was solely based on running hard and becoming superbly fit. Umpires were expected to be up to date with technique and rules by reading an umpiring manual and the rule book
In recent years match day simulation drills have been introduced into the training nights to educate umpires about what to do in certain situations, this form of learning allows for practical application of rule implementation and encourages healthy discussion about rule interpretation. Rod is currently coached by Terry Tomlinson and Peter Jeffers, both men umpired at the highest level during their goal umpiring careers. Rod and his fellow goal umpires now receive individual feedback to improve their umpiring from regular match day observations made by both coaches and training instructor Des Deering.
Rod sees his role in umpiring over the years as providing a vital community service to ensure the club leadership team, the players and spectators are provided with a competent, fair and honest interpretation of the rules of this great game they play. He has sought extended self improvement for providing this service by observing WAFL and AFL umpires in action and completing four umpiring education courses.
Rod considers that each moment in a game presents itself as a new challenge, and it is the satisfactory achievement of each challenge that motivates him to want to continue umpiring for as long as he can. Above all else Rod says it is the people who are part of Australia’s national sport that has kept him in the game. He takes solace from the historic Aussie Rules Motto; “A game for the people by the people”. Rod considers that it is the combined efforts of the entire Aussie Rules community that make the game so irresistible.
Rod is very humbled to be a part of an organization that has changed greatly over his 1000 games. This weekend Rod’s 1000th game will take place at Carine Open Space between Hamersley Carine and Swan Athletic.