In The Media
WHO WOULD have though the decision to skip footy training one night would result in a rewarding umpiring career that spanned 32 years and, as of this weekend, an incredible 1500 games?
Certainly not Di Phyland, the umpire in question.
After giving up playing, Phyland moved fully into the umpiring program, finding her love for both the people and the game.
“I enjoyed it so much that I kept on going, it’s the people, the game, the things we love so much,” she said.
This love and passion for umpiring saw Phyland transition from the boundary into the field umpiring role, officiating multiple games a weekend over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Officiating on field brought Phyland back into the thick of the action, a role she said became her favourite throughout the years.
Being able to interact with players and seeing the characters first-hand has provided Phyland with many fond memories during her career.
“Absolutely [it’s] the interaction with players. The fitness is good [too] it’s something I’ve enjoyed,” she said.
“[But] there are some real characters out there, it just makes the time so much more enjoyable.”
Looking back at those moments, Phyland recounted the time she was unexpectedly sledged by a colleague-turned-player on the field.
“I had the pleasure of umpiring one of our lovely young females coming through,” she recalled.
“When I have gone in for a ball up, she has turned to her opponent and said ‘you know, that’s my grandma umpiring us’.
“I must admit, we have had many a good giggle over the years about that.”
Along with spending time umpiring in the EDFL, Phyland has also honed her craft in the VFLW and AFL Masters, gaining experience at different levels of competition.
Along with characters on the field, Phyland has come across her fair share off the field, none more so than the late EDFL legend Jim Ainsworth.
Spending time together as a part of the umpiring fraternity, Phyland vividly recounts one of her many fond memories spent with Jim.
“He was just one of these blokes who has such an enormous personality, it’s very quiet without him in the rooms,” she said.
Umpiring together along with Jim Ainsworth and Tom Ennis at the Under-15 championships in Port Melbourne, Phyland was out completing her warmups, giving Ainsworth his moment to pounce.
“Neville Nash was overseeing the umpires, and he said to the boys ‘where are your boundary umpires?’,” she said.
“Jimmy turned around and said, ‘Grandma’s out on the field.’
From that moment on Phyland recalled the nickname ‘Grandma’ sticking like glue.
“They’re older than me by the way!” she said.
Breaking the mould in a traditionally male-dominated field, Phyland has seen more and more girls come through and stick with the EDFL umpiring program over the years.
After starting out as the only female in the umpiring group, she couldn’t be prouder of the development and growth in female participation.
“We have some amazing young ladies here, I’m very pleased to have played some small part in their pathway,” she said.
Phyland heaped praise on the work the EDFL continues to do in fostering inclusivity and growth.
“It’s a great testament to this organisation that we have so many females here, and so many of them keep coming back because they obviously feel comfortable,” she said.
“I don’t think being involved should be about gender. It should be about whether or not you want to, and whether or not you are capable.”
Casting her mind back over her career, Phyland felt immensely grateful for both the experiences she has had and relationships she has built.
“I have given a lot of time, put in a lot of effort, [and] have made some absolutely incredible friends, both on and off the field,” she said.
“I would like to think that if I were to walk away tomorrow it would be done having the respect of my fellow umpiring group and the players.”
But Phyland is showing no signs of slowing down, believing she will be umpiring “until her body gives up.”
“Fortunately, I don’t plan on giving up anytime soon. I’m just having as much fun now as I was when I started out,” she said.
Phyland’s 1500th game comes under lights on Friday night with Maribyrnong Park hosting Keilor.