BOB McLaren never thought he would umpire more football matches than he played when he picked up the whistle two decades ago.
The long-time East Warrnambool stalwart played more than 250 matches for the Bombers before finishing his career with a season at Allansford.
But far from not reaching his games tally, he’s on track to umpire twice as many. He will take charge for the 400th time when Dennington plays Nirranda today.
McLaren, 52, said he was unaware of the milestone until he read an email from the Warrnambool and District Football Umpires Association this week.
“When I noticed on the email it was going to be my 400th I thought it was quite an achievement,” he said.
“When you look at it, that’s 400 Saturdays you’ve put out there. To me it is a bit of an achievement.”
McLaren called time on his playing days in 1992 and had 12 months away from football before becoming an umpire in 1994 on the urging of Wayne Smalley.
He is a life member of EWFNC and the WDFUA — two organisations which call Reid Oval home — and a regular in the gym and pool during the week.
“I always thought when I started umpiring I didn’t want to umpire more games than I played. But it’s good money and it’s good fitness,” he said.
“You give up football and say ‘I’m going to have a rest for three months and get back into it’. But nine times out of 10 you don’t get back into it.”
McLaren joked that reaching the milestone meant he had “survived all the supporters”. He said umpire abuse was an unfortunate part of grassroots football.
“I know umpires get abused … but if you went into a workforce and got treated the same way on a Saturday afternoon, that workplace would get closed down,” he said.
“But it’s different. Even if you go to the AFL, people would go there and not barrack for a side and just bag the umpires. We’ve got good umpires up there (at the WDFUA) but ex-footballers do make good umpires because they’ve been there, done that.”