Chris Clements hits 600
CHRIS Clements notched up 600 games with the whistle on Saturday when he took the field for the Korumburra-Bena home game against Kilcunda-Bass.
Originally a player, the Korumburra umpire retired from the sport when he was about 30 years old.
“I realised I was not a very good spectator, so I took up golf for around five years and in that time I probably didn’t attend a footy match,” he said.
“But then I put on a bit of weight and happened to be playing basketball with a member of the Bass Valley umpiring panel.
“My first game was the Wonthaggi Rovers versus the Inverloch Thirds in 1986 and that was where it all started.”
After five years away from the game, Mr Clements realised he missed the footy environment and has umpired every season since.
“For an umpire, 600 games is a huge milestone. It is effectively 27 years of participation. For a player, two or 300 games is a big deal,” he said.
“Although they only play one game a week and I was sometimes umpiring two a week.”
There is a lot of training involved in becoming an umpire; they do have to know the rules of the game inside and out.
“Some spectators may not realise it and so to minimise the anger I get from the sidelines I decided the better I got, the less I would cop. It hasn’t worked,” he said.
Mr Clements said one of his most memorable moments was the first year the local umpiring panel was allowed to umpire senior games.
“They used to bring in umpires from Melbourne, we were never allowed on the field,” he said.
“My second senior match was the Wonthaggi Rovers against the Wonthaggi Blues, who didn’t really like each other very much.
“It was a great game and I only had one report.”
Eventually, local umpires were also allowed on to the field to umpire in senior grand finals, which brought a few more memorable moments for Mr Clements.
“I umpired the first Alberton Football League senior grand final and at the end of the game, the president of the losing club came and told us it was the best umpiring he had seen in a long time,” he said.
“The 1994 Bass Valley League grand final when Wonthaggi Rovers came back from behind to defeat Phillip Island by two points was another memorable game.
“The intensity and the closeness of it was great.”
So far, Mr Clements has been in control of 11 senior grand finals.
In his 600 games, there have been only two or three incidences Mr Clements can recall that have been negative.
“All the rest of my experiences with local football have been extremely positive,” he said.
“The involvement of the community and the camaraderie of the people involved especially at a country level is incredible.
“They are aware of things that have happened and that are happening and make you feel a part of it.”
And as far as spectators go, Mr Clements said it helps to have a thick hide.
“It doesn’t worry me at all, but I have seen half a dozen umpires walk off the field and never return because of crowd abuse,” he said.
Mr Clements said he wasn’t ever planning to make it to 600 games, in fact when he reached 500 he was sure he wouldn’t.
“I said I wouldn’t bet on me making 600, but I have no immediate plans to retire because I still enjoy it,” he said.
“I am a fairly harsh critic on my own abilities, I know what I can and can’t do well but I think my decision making is as good as it has ever been.
“I don’t think I am yet being seen as the old hack who still shows up.”
For Saturday’s game, the three field umpires had a whopping 1641 games experience between them.
“I got to select the umpires I had on the field with me. I chose Vin Hally who was umpiring when I started and the next longest standing umpire, Steve McNamara.
“Vin has umpired around 560 games and Steve around 490.”
In the South Gippsland Umpiring Association, Mr Clements has the most games under his belt at 600.
“Milestones mean a little, but it is really just the experience and the privilege of being involved in the game for that amount of time that means the most,” he said.
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