SHARP-EYED John Beveridge established his reputation as a judge of football talent years ago.
In more than 30 years in the business of spotting and jotting Beveridge has delivered St Kilda a dazzling list of players. But he also played a part in giving the game one of its most accomplished umpires.
Stephen McBurney played junior football for St Peters in the old Bentleigh-McKinnon league in the early 1980s.
Beveridge was his Under 11s coach and later suggested he take up umpiring.
“He sowed the seed. He thought I had some good athletic ability and that I was a good thinker,’’ McBurney says. “Clearly I wasn’t cut out to be a good footballer. His encouragement and support were important to me at an early age.’’
McBurney was 17 when he went from player to decision-maker. Beveridge helped his development by booking him for mid-week zone squad and school matches.
In five years McBurney rose from junior games to senior matches in the old South East Suburban Churches league to the VFL panel. He was on the AFL senior list by 1995, earning his debut in Round 1.
Exactly 400 more games followed, and he officiated in four grand finals. McBurney retired at the end of last season. But his experience and expertise haven’t been lost to the game.
Reflecting his local roots, he’s become ambassador for the Southern Football League umpires.
He will work with talented young whistleblowers, giving them feedback on their performances, and present at key league functions.
It’s an extension of the role he had in the AFL Victoria-AFL “Mentoring Mates’’ program.
He worked with female umpires in the mates program. There was none in the squad when McBurney started umpiring. Now there are 35 on the Southern panel. It’s been a pleasant surprise for him to watch the likes of Kelly Williamson, Wendy Toovey and Annie Mirabile control games.
“It’s quite funny actually. Kelly’s a very good umpire, a strong communicator. She’s no shrinking violet.
“The first time I went and saw her, she paid a free kick in the second quarter and one of the players started to argue with her. One of his teammates grabbed him and said, ‘Shut up mate, she’s a sheila, you can’t say that’. And that’s the attitude of players.
“There is no doubt in my mind they cut greater slack to young females umpires than they do males umpires. The crowds are a bit the same.’’
McBurney would like to see the same slack afforded to rookies. He says those who get through their first year invariably go on to become long-termers.
“Early on it’s particularly hard. That’s why we need to protect and nurture young umpires. Once they get the hang of it and gain some confidence, they love umpiring.’’