It's a tough gig at times but umpiring is also a rewarding pastime which brings people from all different walks of life together, as JUSTINE McCULLAGH-BEASY found out.
MOST Saturdays the Bellman family is scattered around the Western District umpiring different games of football.
It's rare for any of them - dad Wayne, Nick, 17, Alana, 16, Ryan, 13, and Sam, 11, - to be allotted the same match in either the Hampden or Warrnambool and District league competitions.
But umpiring has become a family pastime and each Wednesday they trek to Reid Oval and train with their Warrnambool and District Football Umpires Association teammates.
The Bellmans are among roughly 110 people, ranging from age 11 to 70, who ensure the region's country football clubs get to play each week.
"We are spread out - we could be in five different points on a Saturday," Wayne says of his family's weekly umpiring schedule.
"Where were we last week? Hamilton, Koroit, South (Warrnambool), Allansford. Most Saturdays we're at all corners of the state.
"You can coach the kids in footy or in the cricket but this way we are all doing the same thing and we've done a couple of games together through the year so it's been pretty good."
It was a case of father following son into the umpiring ranks.
Nick, who also plays football for Hampden club Warrnambool but is sidelined with a season-ruining broken wrist, joined four years ago.
Wayne and his three youngest kids followed suit a year later.
"I was just filling in,' the former Grassmere and Northern Districts footballer says of his introduction.
"We were short on goalies; we were short on everything really. But I was too slow to move around in the midfield so I just do the goals.
"It keeps you involved in the footy and being a goalie you can see different games every week, you're not just there watching the same teams. I like that."
Bellman estimates he played 90-odd senior games before a broken leg ended his playing days.
He considers the umpires association like a family, much like a football-netball club.
"A lot of people hang shit on them on the field but off the field they're a pretty good bunch," he jokes.
"They are from all different walks of life and we knew a few of them before we started which worked in pretty well but then you get to know all the rest.
"It is the same as a normal club. It is good for the kids. The quiet ones seem to grow a bit and the noisy ones just keep continuing on."
The Bellman kids run the boundary.
Nick, Alana and Ryan are doing senior games and the baby of the family, Sam, will make his senior debut at Timboon on Saturday.
The worst part, says Ryan, is the backchat from the players. He tries to laugh it off.
But there's good parts too, according to Nick.
"I like playing footy but I like umpiring the tight games when the crowd gets involved," he says.
The umpiring community is diverse - there's a number of families involved, like the Bellmans, men and women, boys and girls, parents and grandparents.
Alana is one of the growing group of females to have joined the association, which trains on Mondays with a recovery focus and again on Wednesdays when the weekend's groups are finalised.
"There is actually quite a good group of girls and there's a lot more in the juniors coming up at the moment," she says.
Zoe Wilkinson, a 15-year-old Warrnambool College student, is one, and her sister, Anna, 12, another.
Zoe is learning to be a field umpire and is one of four teenagers, along with Sam Walker, Jacob Gome and Louis Sharman, graduating after apprenticeships on the boundary.
Long-time umpire and former president Jamie Lake says they have earned their stripes.
"You can start in the centre if you want to but 90 per cent start on the boundary and work their way through," he says.
"Ninety per cent is about fitness but it's so they can get used to the rules and positioning."
The quartet's progression from boundary to field is important for the association's long-term viability.
Lake, who has umpired for 33 years, says it has about 24 full-time field umpires at the moment to cover 8.5 senior games a week.
Its 110 members is about 40 short of where the association would ideally like to be.
"You might have 15 to 20 people out every week (due to illness and other commitments) so your pool of people diminishes every week," he says.
"The peak number has only been 120, even back in the halcyon days.
"The lowest in my time was about 80."
Zoe says it is important people, like her younger sister Anna, start on the boundary to help encourage older umpires to move into the field, which involves between 12 and 15km of running each game.
"Without the young people there wouldn't be the older guys," she says.
"They all started somewhere so we have got to keep them coming through and keep the numbers up.
"I started umpiring a couple of years ago because I wanted to get out and have a run and get a bit of fitness up.
"I've started to go into the field now because I wanted to challenge myself a bit more."
Lake says most umpires get involved between the ages of 11 and 13 and the association would love to attract more between the ages of 15 and 23.
The incentive of handy pocket money helps attract teenagers and pre-teens, as 12-year-old boundary umpire Matthew Gome puts it: "You're getting paid and getting fit while you're doing it".
Field umpires allocated a Hampden league senior game receive $157 if they're working in tandem and $143 if there's three appointed.
Boundary umpires working in tandem during a Hampden senior match get $82 each, $54 if there's three and $40 if there's four sharing the duties.
A goal umpire for a Hampden senior game pockets $66.
A central umpire assigned to a Warrnambool and District league senior game receives $123 if they're working in tandem and $113 if there's three on deck.
Working in tandem on the boundary in a Warrnambool and District senior match guarantees $69.
It's worth $45 if three are appointed and $33 if there's four.
The goal umpire is rewarded with $53.
For most, the money is a bonus.
Former Fitzroy footballer and three-time Maskell Medallist Hugh Worrall is one doing it solely for the love of the game.
At 70, Worrall says he's the oldest in the group "probably by a little bit".
"I use my brain, not my legs," he jokes.
But the former Hampden league president remains up for senior field selection and will this week officiate the Timboon Demons-Russells Creek match.
"When I retired from playing football I wanted to remain involved and took up umpiring 35 years ago and did my 550th game at the weekend," he says.
"I don't know about (me being) one of the fittest but I really do enjoy it.
"I'd like to survive this season and hopefully go around next year."
Worrall enjoys watching the younger generation filter through the ranks.
He believes the association does its best to nurture and develop its next crop of umpires.
"They get very well looked after with the program they have running here at Warrnambool and the kids are very enthusiastic, they love every minute of it and they do mix in with the senior umpires, so it's one big family," Worrall reflects.
"It's just like a football club and it's a great environment to be in and I'd encourage anybody who might like to do it to get in contact with the umpires association."
Two of those Worrall hopes can graduate to senior ranks are Matthew Gome and Anna Wilkinson.
Matthew followed his brother Jacob and now has big goals.
"I am hoping to get Hampden seniors by the end of the year and probably doing central in a few years as well," he says.
Anna is still in primary school but is already experienced, having joined two years ago when she was 10.
"I am thinking of trying to get seniors next year and field when I am older," she says.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.