Umpiring big matches went hand in hand with Grant Vernon’s decorated career, but his fondest memories are of personal interactions.
Vernon is back in the spotlight after receiving another football honour, this time as the 2022 WAFL Umpiring Ball Legend.
“It was a great honour and a great culture in WA umpiring.
Dean Margetts arranged for me to be at a meeting of the entire WAFL panel where he made the announcement.
I am always humbled and very grateful for the tremendous respect that is shown to me by both the umpiring group and the WAFC,” Vernon said of his latest achievement.
The first non-Victorian to umpire in the AFL, two of Vernon’s favourite memories involve greats of the game.
“I have two photos in my study at home, one where former Carlton champion Craig Bradley has me in a full bear hug from behind and is pretending to cry on my shoulder about a free kick (a player couldn’t do that these days!).
The other is Tim Watson towering over me and clearly giving me a spray.
A friend who worked with Tim at Channel 7 found the photo in some archives a few years later and asked Tim to sign it.
He wrote “Dear Grant, you have beautiful eyes… and a belated apology”.
I generally found that most players were genuinely nice blokes who just loved footy.
Of course, I also have great memories with many of the guys I umpired with,” Vernon recalls.
Vernon has enjoyed the benefits of the game but is also putting back.
“I’m still involved as Chair of the State Umpiring Advisory Group, a voluntary group that was set up by the WAFC to oversee the culture and direction of umpiring in WA.
I enjoy maintaining a connection to the current umpiring group,” Vernon said.
With a career spanning 313 games as an official, Vernon is well placed to speak on the crackdown on dissent against umpires in the AFL this year.
“From my perspective, the game is growing, especially women’s football.
We need to attract and retain more umpires.
To do that we need the match day environment at community and junior football to feel safe for young umpires and appreciate their contribution to the game.
If abuse and dissent are accepted in the AFL, then we’ll never get rid of it at a community level.
I understand that past players and umpires in the WAFL or AFL might have enjoyed the banter (just as I described earlier), but the priority must be to promote positive behaviour so we can support the growth of the game at all levels,” Vernon explained.
On a lighter note, Vernon knows a picture of his face on a footy will attract some humour.
“This could be a dream come true for some supporters.
I’m sure there are a few people who’d love to see the ball kicked hard and often around the ground!”
Full Stats on Grant Vernon:
313 total games (203 AFL)
3 x WAFL Grand Finals (87, 90, 91)
WANFLUA Hall of Fame 2000
State Games: 5
AFL Finals: 10
AFL Emergency Grand Final 1996
WAFL Finals: 11
WA Football Hall of Fame 2012