Ron’s passionate about the great game


By David Nagel

BUTTERFLIES in the stomach and pride in his own performance are two things that still attract 82-year-old goal-umpire Ron Roberts to the football.
After more than 4000 games, and nearly 60 years of waving the white flags, Roberts said he was still on edge ahead of last Sunday’s Under 18s girls grand final in the South East Juniors.
“I still get nervous before a game, and the adrenalin still kicks in, once I lose that I think it might be time to give it away,” the Cranbourne resident said.
Roberts was a western suburbs boy back in the early 1950s when he first fell in love the game. A talented junior, he crossed paths with some of the all-time greats of the then VFL.
“I spent my early days around Footscray and captained a junior team and actually played against the great Teddy Whitten,” Roberts said.
“I trained with Footscray but didn’t make the grade so I took up umpiring instead. I was watching a goal umpire one day and he was useless, I thought to myself ‘I can’t possibly do worse than that’, so I gave it a go and the rest as they say is history.”
Roberts took to umpiring with gusto, officiating in six or seven games on a weekend, including two games on a Saturday followed by a busy junior schedule on Sundays. He has umpired in many parts of Victoria, including the West Gippsland, Ellinbank, Mornington Peninsula and Ballarat leagues before settling into his current role with the South East Juniors.
“I support junior and local footy, because that’s where the heart of the game is,” Roberts explained.
“I love the game, I love the social contact, the comradeship, the umpiring fraternity is a very tight-knit group and they’re a great bunch of people. I won’t be hanging the flags up just yet.”
Roberts said he had great memories and not too many bad ones of his time between the posts, quite remarkable really in a role that sometimes has its detractors. He said poor conditions presented him with more of a challenge than poor behaviour.
“They think they’ve got it tough today but I umpired a game at Ferntree Gully once where it started snowing,” he said.
“And sure you get your comments from the crowd, which I can’t repeat, but they go over your head after a while. The worst experience I had with a crowd member was when I was walking past a spectator one day, he opened a can of beer and it exploded all over my coat.”
So is he officially the oldest umpire still officiating?
“There was an article in the paper the other day with an 81-year-old claiming to be the oldest umpire going around, well I’ve got him covered,” the spritely Roberts said.
And his advice to youngsters who are thinking about a career in the fluorescent team on the park?
“Don’t be afraid to give it a go, it builds great character, great leadership and teaches young men the value of responsibility.”
Ron Roberts is living proof that those important traits can stay with you for a lifetime.