BY DYLAN BOLCH
Round 3 of the 2021 season saw the South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) and leagues across the country celebrate the AFL Community Umpire Round.
Before the 2021 season was paused due to Victoria’s current COVID-19 outbreak, the U13 Division 2 St Bedes / Mentone AFC and East Malvern JFC Boys were lucky enough to have some AFL stars participate their Round 3 game.
‘Razor’ Ray Chamberlain is an umpiring icon in the AFL world with over 340 AFL matches across 17 seasons under his belt, including three AFL Grand Finals.
Well-known in the AFL world for his humour and rapport with players, Chamberlain umpired at Mentone Reserve alongside St Kilda star Jack Billings and the Monarch SMJFL Umpire Academy’s very own India Isaacs in Round 3.
Chamberlain spoke exclusively to SMJFL Media about his involvement on the day and his umpiring journey so far.
The umpiring veteran said that he “absolutely loved” the opportunity to be a part of the day. His involvement in the game also brought back some fond memories of his grassroots experiences.
“It took me back to my first ever game [when] I was a part of the ACT Umpires Association,” said Chamberlain.
“We were a team, and they were like family to me. It was a really positive experience for me as a young person and a large part of the reason why I thought [umpiring] was worth pursuing and persisting with,” he said.
Chamberlain shared his tips and advice with the young budding umpire throughout the match.
“We would talk about how we made decisions. We got the outcome right but I would ask [India], ‘What was the process behind that decision?’,” he said.
“[India] was all over it – bang, bang, bang. She was terrific! I found that really enjoyable,” he said.
Chamberlain presented Isaacs with a signed shirt before the match.
“I told her she could use it to wash her car if she liked (laughs),” Chamberlain chuckled.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet India, who is just so impressive as a young person. She has great skills and knowledge, is passionate about the game and has a terrific balance in life,” Chamberlain said.
Monarch SMJFL Umpire India Isaacs holds her AFL Umpire shirt gifted to her by ‘Razor’ Ray Chamberlain
Monarch SMJFL Umpire India Isaacs takes to the ground in Round 3
“I’ve been blessed to umpire senior AFL for 18 years and I think it is a really privileged position to hold. Yes, I have earned it and had to work hard and sacrifice other things in life to get here, but ultimately, I am very privileged.”
Outside of football, Chamberlain is a family man who also runs his own charity with his siblings, the Chamberlain Foundation, which has donated approximately $400,000 to various charities since it began.
Chamberlain said the charity’s focus is on first responders, supported by the community and business partners.
“Our charity supports organisations who work in the space of suicide prevention and grief and loss support, especially for those families who are left behind,” he said.
“If you can make another person feel valued or make their day a bit better, then do everything you can to achieve that,” he said.
Chamberlain said supporting young umpires like Isaacs was extremely important to him.
“I like to do it because I had people who helped me,” said Chamberlain.
“The ongoing friendships and relationships over decades, they did that for me, and they didn’t have to.”
“That was very beneficial and I learned so much and gained such confidence. I feel indebted and a responsibility to help others in any way I can,” he said.
‘Razor’ Ray Chamberlain in action at Mentone Reserve
St Kilda FC superstar Jack Billings acted as goal umpire for the game, and Chamberlain said he enjoyed working with the superstar Saint.
“What a good fella. He gets up, he’s going to feel like he’s been hit by a truck after playing the night before, but he still comes down and smiles, gives up his time and introduces himself to people,” Chamberlain said.
St Kilda Football Club star midfielder Jack Billings signals a point
Chamberlain’s umpiring journey started at humble beginnings, he said.
“I went to watch my brother play footy and basically no umpire turned up,” said Chamberlain.
After the President of the club made the offer to fill up Chamberlain’s car with petrol, Chamberlain said he would give umpiring the game a go.
“The President of the club said, ‘Hey Ray, we will fill up your petrol tank and we won’t let anyone yell at you’,” he said.
Chamberlain’s performance during that game caught the eye of onlooker Bob Stacey, who was a key figure in Canberran footy circles.
Chamberlain said this opened the door for him to pursue umpiring at higher levels.
“I was extremely fortunate because these big footy figures would come up to me and offer me incredibly encouraging words,” he said.
Chamberlain said there were few young umpires going around in Canberra at the time, calling himself a “unicorn”.
“I was a young person [umpiring] and there wasn’t a lot of that going on,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain said that the support he received during the early stages of his umpiring journey paved the way for him to reach higher levels, whilst also reassuring him that he knew what he was doing.
“I look back now and without that support I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Reflecting upon his experiences in umpiring, Chamberlain noted that teamwork is a key aspect of what he does.
“Where I run and what I do impacts on what [my colleagues] do,” he said.
“They need to be able to trust me to then be able to trust themselves. That synergy is key,” he said.
Chamberlain said he placed a huge emphasis on the importance of the player-umpire relationship.
“The players want to be able to trust you. But that can only happen if you are your most authentic self. That is something that I really try to commit to,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean that I am infallible or don’t make mistakes, I will still stuff things up,” he said.
“Own them and put your hand up, and that’s okay, but ultimately [the players] need to be able to predict and know how you roll. That then allows them to be the best version of themselves, too.”
Chamberlain said his passion for umpiring stems from his love of the game, which is second to none.
“I just love the game. I love Australian Rules Football,” he said.
Billings, Chamberlain and Isaacs with Operations and Umpire Academy Manager Cameron Watts, SMJFL Chief Executive Officer Sarah Loh and club volunteers on the day
“It doesn’t matter what sport or what level it is. If the officiating is not up to scratch, the game recedes like the tide. That is why I am super passionate about umpiring,” he said.
Formally celebrating and acknowledging AFL Community Umpiring Round is something that Chamberlain said is incredibly important for all the games participants and followers.
“If you want the game to proceed and to be able to participate in the game, you want to enjoy the game … get your behaviour right. Get your involvement right. Get your support right so that you can continue to enjoy the game and the umpires can too,” he said.
The 340-game veteran spoke about the importance of retaining umpires from throughout the umpiring pathways.
“My greatest fear is that we do fall off a cliff,” he said.
“But when you couple [increased player participation] with the struggle in terms of recruitment and retention of umpires, you have a cataclysmic set of events.”
The SMJFL Umpire Academy is always looking for new members and Chamberlain said he would encourage anyone who is thinking about umpiring to “just give it a crack”.
Communication skills and learning how to deal with people from all different backgrounds are two of the major benefits of umpiring and Chamberlain said that attending coaching sessions and receiving feedback is a great way for young umpires to build their confidence.
“All of those skills are transferable and that is valuable in other walks of life,” he said.
“You can learn all of this whilst still being involved in what I think is the greatest game on the planet. That’s before you talk about the fact that you get paid pretty well,” said Chamberlain.