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Realising a Lifelong Dream - From SMJFL to the AFL

“If you enjoy it and stick at it, there are so many opportunities and experiences that will come your way and you’ve got to grab those when they arise”

SMJFL Head of Umpiring Doug Haworth caught up with AFL Field Umpire Peter Bailes following his AFL Umpiring Debut to chat about all things Umpiring!

Doug: Thanks for joining us today! Lets start with the big exciting news from 2023, you made your AFL Debut as a Field Umpire! How was that experience?

Peter: It was a lifelong dream come true. To be able to go out there and Umpire an AFL game was an unbelievable experience and having a few friends there and Mum and Dad too, made it all the better. But I felt that all the hard work and sacrifice over the years had paid off and I couldn’t be happier with it.

D: It’s quite an incredible achievement to make it to the AFL as an Umpire, which takes a lot of time and commitment. How long have you been involved in Umpiring and how have you found the journey?

P: So, I started at the SMJFL in 2011 and did 3 years there and then transitioned to senior football for 5 years before VFL then AFL. So all up about 13 years, nearly half of my life being dedicated to umpiring. But I found the journey really good and valuable, not only for my umpiring, but all aspects of my life like making lifelong friends and developing skills and confidence that you wouldn’t get from many other jobs. I think it takes a lot to be an Umpire and it definitely helps with a lot of character building.

D: To be frank, not many kids would wake up and say “I want to be the next Ray Chamberlain!” as its usually the dream to be a player. When did you have that moment where you decided that making it to the AFL as a Field Umpire was something that you wanted to strive for?

P: It wasn’t until the General Manager of Member and Business Services (Cam Watts) beat me in a Grand Final in Under 14’s football and I decided that he had the better of me that day so I thought that I’d be a better Umpire than a player, and I desperately wanted to stay involved in the game and to be involved as an Umpire to help me see another side of football, that was a turning point for me.

D: Being involved for such a long time, you must have had some incredible experiences! Do you mind sharing a few with us?

P: Yeah, the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my first few games at the AFL is that you’re travelling the country, watching the best games from the best seat in the house and when you watch the best players doing their thing, it’s truly amazing to see what they’re capable of. Also, being involved in football and staying involved and not walking away from the game. I know that the community are always looking for Umpires so anyone who wants to take it up, should.

D: I am sure that you would have worked with some incredible people along your journey as well! Whether they are an Umpire, a Coach, or just a great person, who has been the most influential person in your career to date?

P: Everyone who I’ve come across in umpiring has probably had some influence on me, whether they know it or not, or whether I know it or not. A couple that stand out in particular are Tony Hales, who was my coach at the VAFA in 2014 who is now at the AFL, has always continued to be a mentor right through since I met him in 2013 at the SMJFL and he has been providing me feedback from all of my games, whether I wanted it or not. But also my family, my friends and partner, who continue to push me and challenge me and I strive to get better because of all that they do.

D: Umpiring can be a very challenging job at times but there are definitely plenty of moments that make it worth it all. What has been the most enjoyable part of Umpiring for you?

P: I think the most enjoyable would be the lifelong friends I’ve made. One of my closest circle of friends is made up of Umpires and I’ve met some great people along the way such as yourself and Cam Watts. But also, the memories that you make on and off the field, talking about all the close games that you umpire together and the moments that you’ve had, all of the travelling and training, seeing all your friends twice a week and then catching up when you’re not umpiring. But it is like a football club having that social connection and team camaraderie, so anything to keep holding on to that feeling.

D: And to wrap up, for any aspiring Umpire reading this, what piece of advice would you give them, given that you were once in their exact position here at the SMJFL?

P: You’ve got to enjoy it, first of all. And you’ve got to find what you enjoy about it, whether it’s the physical aspect, staying involved in football, making new friends or whether you do like it for the money. But finding out why you are interested and why you love it because if you don’t enjoy it, it’s going to be a difficult job to do and do well. If you enjoy it and stick at it, there are so many opportunities and experiences that will come your way and you’ve got to grab those when they arise.

D: Thank you so much for your time, Peter! Before we let you go, can we get a quick fire 5 questions from you?

P: Yep… Is this going to be a stitch up?

1. Which actor would play you in a movie? Hugh Jackman.

2. Dream holiday destination? European Summer – Its hard to go past. That’s why it’s a dream!

3. Favourite Taylor Swift song? Can’t pick just one… This is the stitch up because it’s so hard! Um… Belong With Me, Taylor’s Version The bridge is just so good.

4. Your go to pizza topping? Supreme, no olives and no anchovies.

5. Who would you want to narrate and voice over your life? David Attenborough.


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