Richmond fans demonstrate umpire appreciation the old-fashioned way.

Richmond fans demonstrate umpire appreciation the old-fashioned way.

In case you didn't catch any of the 12,553 mentions it received during the weekend's television broadcasts, we've just had AFL Umpire Appreciation Round.

Before I get started, a few similar appreciation themes I'd like to see before the season's out - Beleaguered Coach Round (current poster child Matt Primus), Dud Draft Pick Round (step forward Jack Watts), Offshore Call Centre Worker Round (the real-world equivalent of umpires) and Tryhard/Flog Sports Writer Round (at least one reader is bound to suggest it, so I'll get in ahead of them).

But back to Umpire Appreciation Round and, as my mate Royboy asked on Saturday night, "what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

It's a good question.

For instance, I know a couple of my mates (and maybe even the odd commentator) REALLY appreciate the work of goal umpire Chelsea Roffey. But I'm not sure that's what we're talking about.

Chelsea Roffey - my mates already appreciate her.

Maybe it has something to do with booing of umpires - either a complete moratorium or a weekend-long policy of heckling only when the filthy maggots, oops I mean nice folks in yellow, really deserve it.

(Did I notice some kind of booing transferral syndrome on Sunday afternoon, when Carlton fans, unable to have a go at the umps, turned on their own team instead at half-time? Or were the Blues simply that bad against GWS?)

Recently I've been thinking about umpires (and not only Chelsea) a good deal more than is probably healthy - for a couple of reasons.

One is the controversial end to last month's A-League grand final.

A story I wrote about how ugly I thought the finish to the season was received almost 120 comments. Maybe half were from Brisbane Roar fans accusing me of sour grapes but a good 20 to 30 per cent were from fellow AFL lovers declaring "this would never happen in our game".

They are partly right. No AFL player who wanted to live past next week would ever carry on like Besart Berisha did. But could one of our officials be capable of stuffing up such a crucial decision?

Which brings me to the second reason I've been thinking about umpires recently: a growing fondness for the AFL's weekly It's Your Call video.

It's an unlikely formula for an online hit - a portly former beleaguered coach (Jeff Gieschen) and an ex-player (Wayne Schwass) discussing the most hated art in the game (umpiring), while pretending they are oblivious to the fact they have been put in front of one of the most distracting backdrops in TV history.

A frightening collection of pastel colours sneaks up behind Wayne Schwass.

There are a few ways you can look at It's Your Call. You can say it's just another part of the AFL's barrow-pushing PR juggernaut, that it simply makes lame excuses for poor umpiring, or, on the flip side, that it honestly discusses mistakes that previously may have been glossed over.

For mine though, I like the way it shows that the AFL has at least as many (and quite possibly more) grey areas than any other sport.

Witness the following small sample of decisions/non-decisions:

The umpires' on-the-spot decisions were: play on, deliberate out of bounds, play on, holding the ball, play on and play on.

My verdict from a comfortable office seat is: push in the back/too high, deliberate, deliberate, play on, holding the ball and holding the ball/dropping the ball/throwing the ball (a rare triple-whammy).

Four of the six examples came from very tight games. None were result or season-deciding like the A-League penalty call. But they could easily have been.

And when I think of my own attitude towards being asked to take on officiating duties - offering to pay my social basketball team's entire $50 fine rather than take a whistle for one game - I reckon I get a step closer to understanding what umpire appreciation really is.

At a time when the adjudication of matches is only likely to get more complex (players sliding along the ground, the Eagles "ducking debate"), it's about appreciating the fact it's the umps out there in the firing line and not us.

Thank God for that.

PS - Sorry umps, I think I may have broken the weekend's boo moratorium. But don't worry, I feel bad about it, I really do.

PPS - My favourite umpiring moment so far this season: a Fremantle player being told he had done "the full revolution" when being penalised for holding the ball against Carlton. Sounded so cool that I almost forgot a Carlton player had gone unpunished for the same transgression five minutes earlier.

PPPS - Ray Chamberlain would surely have featured in this piece somewhere if not for injury. Hurry back Razor (and not just so I can abuse you).

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