Toby Greene is lucky to have been banned for only three games, even if it means he won’t play again this AFL season.
It’s tempting to say that his “disrespectful, demonstrative and aggressive” bullying of referee Matt Stevic was a childish tantrum, but even kids know better than to punch a referee.
It’s disappointing that we won’t see Greene in another final this year as he is usually so good to watch.
However, the stakes in this case were always higher than one giant.
Anyone involved in community-level football will tell you that Australian rules are short on referees.
COVID has been a factor.
In Victoria, the 2020 grassroots season was abandoned; this year there are still a few final series in the air, although several competitions have already been cancelled.
Maybe those who refereed to make some money got tired of uncertainty, or maybe they found they liked not being criticized on a Saturday afternoon.
Whatever the reason, there is a growing gap between “registered umpires” and “required umpires”.
As a result, those who whistle are asked to play multiple matches each weekend.
The expansion of girls’ and women’s football has also increased demand.
We need umpires more than ever.
I’m involved with several teams in a region overseen by AFL South-East, where administrators say the number of active referees has dropped by 15 percent.
I’ve never seen it this bad in my life in football.
Earlier this season, numerous games for juniors and some seniors in the reserve class had no umpires at all, despite the efforts of volunteer organizers of the Southern Umpires Association (SUA).
Two of my sons are referees at SUA; they do it for pocket money and enjoy the positive team environment created by their experienced mentors.
But there’s always the misuse of pedestals in the outer ones, and it makes sense that dropout rates are highest among umpires after just one season on the job.
Themes are similar in nationwide leagues further away from the city.
Most first umpires are middle-aged. Where is the next generation?
Greene’s intimidation of Stevic was a spectacular example of referee contempt, but there were more over the weekend.
The next day in Tassie we saw something more subtle as the dynamic Western Bulldog Cody Weightman was the match winner against Essendon, with four goals from free kicks.
Weightman should have been widely celebrated for dominating an elimination final at just 20 years of age.
Instead, he was accused by some experts and barracks of milking cultivator. Never mind that he deserved every kick by being in the right places, leaving Essendon players freaking out in the wet.
With a predictable online shirt front, at least one post-match headline suggested that the referee “killed the match.”
The margin was 49 points. (The Dons were collectively unable to score more goals than the boy from Beaconsfield.)
Umpire bashing is a crass tradition of our beloved code.
It is tolerated to some extent.
Greene’s banning from the tribunal for 2021 was necessary to stand up for trusted officials.
It might make us all think a little more about the way we treat referees in our moments of frustration, because recruiting and retaining these men and women has never been more critical.