When fresh-faced teenagers Nic Naitanui and Michael Walters were making their way through junior football one umpire regularly had the best view at the ground.
Ryan Shelton began umpiring in the Swan Districts region at the age of 13 and during that time he oversaw matches involving the future Eagles champion and a young star who was destined to become a Fremantle Dockers great.
“I just wanted to get fit and get paid for it.
Umpiring became more than a job, it became a community which I thoroughly enjoyed,” Shelton said.
After four years and two Under 17 Grand Finals in the Swan Districts area, Shelton received a call up to join the WAFL panel in 2006.
Shelton, a veteran of 184 WAFL matches including last year’s Grand Final, understands the importance of Community Round and the support it provides umpires.
“Umpires know they’re doing a good job when no-one notices them.
The Community Umpiring Round is a fantastic opportunity for umpires to be noticed for the right reasons.
With the expansion of the game in WA including the growth of women’s football, it’s imperative that we band together as an umpiring group to promote opportunities,” Shelton said.
Joining umpiring ranks at a young age proved a blessing for Shelton, who by day is a teacher at Iona College.
“I wouldn’t be the person today if I hadn’t started my umpiring journey at the age of 13.
You had to mature quickly and develop characteristics such as leadership, communication, decision making and people skills.
Umpiring can also fit around other pursuits such as playing football and work commitments”, Shelton said.
Being in charge at a community game has its rewards according to Shelton.
“The atmosphere is terrific.
You get to help people getting the most out of the best three hours of their week.
I have fond memories running around in the Perth Football League.”
The role officials play on game day shouldn’t be taken for granted, according to Shelton.
“I like the idea that the perfect game is one with no free kicks, but we know that’s not possible.
The first game of football was umpired by the captains and there’s a reason that changed.
Umpires work towards growing the game, keeping a duty of care for players, and implementing rules.
It wouldn’t be the same without us!”
For Shelton, the WAFL has grown with the times.
“I’ve seen incredible improvements in the inclusion and diversity of all umpires.
When I started there were two female goal umpires and now there’s a diverse group of officials.
Reviewing performances has also changed dramatically.
At one stage we didn’t have any video footage of our matches unless it was shown in a coaching session.
Now, vision is available digitally straight after a match to review and improve”.
As part of Shelton’s contribution to Community Round, last night he went back to the place where it all began, the Swans Junior Umpiring Club.