In late 2013, the Community umpires started gathering down outside the Maritime Museum in South Brisbane to start their pre-Christmas fitness training. Very soon, a smiling and highly energetic young lady came walking down and immediately introduced herself to the group.
Just over a year later, Belinda Stewart has emerged as a promising goal umpire, having been selected for both the Goal Umpire Academy and the NEAFL Goal Umpires panel. She has also become a very popular figure in the group thanks to high levels of happiness and energy on training nights and match days.
How did you first become an umpire?
I’ve had a pretty longstanding exposure to Australian Football as a direct result of two older brothers playing the game. I used to water carry, attend the scoreboard and eventually had a go as a goal umpire volunteer for their teams. I was helping out with a Brisbane State High School match, when an AFL Queensland match manager suggested that I jump on board with the umpiring program and soon enough I did.
Has football been part of your life before becoming an umpire?
Absolutely! My family is very involved in Aussie Rules and I had a few opportunities to play in mixed competitions in primary school. Although I didn’t play for club, I usually spent about four days a week at an AFL ground while my brothers were training.
How long did it take for you to settle into the Community group?
The group made it almost impossible for me to shy away. Even at the first training session, I had at least thirty umpires approach me to introduce themselves. Within a few weeks I felt totally at home with the group of umpires from all disciplines. The Goal Umpires in the Community group are a cluster of friendly, approachable and skilled individuals. In my first few weeks, each and every goal umpire gave me invaluable tips and tricks of the trade. With special mention to Allan Matheson, Danny Smith, Darryl Lyndon-Floate, Warren Derrick, Kyle Coleman and Shane Reiche, who really went above and beyond to foster my progress and development – thank you for your patience and tolerance.
What was your first game like for you? How did it feel to walk out for your first game?
Fortunately I was guided by the keen tutelage of a fellow umpire, Danny Smith. Danny truly made it difficult for me to feel nervous about my first game, even after I accidentally dropped my flags in the first quarter. Danny definitely took me under his wing with his tremendous professionalism and embodiment of enthusiasm. It suffices to say that Danny has been a sensational mentor and friend since.
What has been the most memorable moment as far as an umpire?
I would have to wind it down to having an opportunity to umpire at Metricon Stadium. The experience had me essentially bouncing off the walls before the game and the quality of the match was terrific. The team of umpires I was running with was very experienced, and took it upon themselves to encourage me into enjoying the game and feeling confident with my decisions. The atmosphere was very exciting and I’m positive I’ll remember it forever.
Any particular coaches or umpires have an impact in your year as an Umpire?
One thing is for certain; there is an obscenely long list. Whether it’s the fellow umpires at training getting me over the finish line, the trainers providing their assistance and care, or the coaches that strive to make you better at every opportunity, everyone has had a remarkable influence. Michael O’Donnell, however, has been a true landmark in my whole experience as a goal umpire. Michael has an unparalleled sense of compassion in his coaching, which has given me every confidence as an umpire.
You started off as a first year umpire and you’ve now landed in the NEAFL panel. That is an amazing climb up the ranks! Where to from here?
It’s certainly been a wonderful journey; Aussie Rules umpiring has treated me overwhelmingly well! At this point, my goal is to perform consistently in the games that I am appointed to this season. I’m overjoyed, humbled and eager to begin the home and away matches. My aim is to keep training hard, formulate good friendships with the umpires who work beside me and do the very best I can to deliver the correct decisioning for teams on game day. Also, it’s a personal ambition to get women more involved in AFL and AFL umpiring.
What advice do you have for anyone thinking of becoming an umpire in Australian Football?
It suffices to say, that my experience as a goal umpire has been nothing sheer of incredible. Umpiring, funnily enough, is brilliant for socializing. I sincerely believe that I’ve met some hilarious and considerate individuals. It is for this reason I suggest that people thinking about being an umpire should do their best to cherish the umpires around you, they’ve each got their innate story to share. Also, umpiring implicitly gives you an opportunity to grow as a person. Learning to take constructive criticism, endeavoring to beat personal bests, developing a sense of leadership and pride are all by-products of the umpiring profession. If you’re not certain whether umpiring is for you, my best advice is spreading a smile over your face and giving it a go to gauge for yourself whether you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. Just jump in, spread your wings and soar.
Umpires Of the AFLQUA
The AFLQUA represents umpires all over Queensland who officiate in everything from the local community league on a Saturday afternoon, to the AFL.