Umpire Todd Charlton reflects on 500 games and challenges ahead for local footy

Todd Charlton has just about seen it all during his 500 games as a country football umpire.

The Riverland resident first took up umpiring to keep himself fit for cricket season, but soon found himself a core part of the Riverland Football League’s (RFL) officiating team in regional South Australia. 

During his career, he has umpired numerous RFL grand finals and even AFL legend Mark Ricciuto’s return to his childhood club Waikerie, which attracted more than 5,000 spectators.

Last weekend, while umpiring the match between Loxton and Berri, he notched up his 500th game. 

Mr Charlton said a lot had changed since his first game holding the whistle.

“We do have some youngsters that we’re pushing through the junior grades now to try and give them some development. 

“But there’s no doubt we’re on the hunt for ex-players or anyone else who wants to get involved because we are in a period where our panel is getting a bit older.” 

Abuse a barrier for umpiring ranks

The AFL has cracked down this season on abuse towards umpires, a move that has seen penalties given to players remonstrating with officials during a game. 

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Two football players jump to try and catch a ball, while others stand and watch.
Todd Charlton’s umpired the Loxton versus Berri match for his 500th game.(Supplied: Grant Schwartzkopf)

As a community umpire, Mr Charlton appreciates the focus.

He said footy had a “reputation and culture” that supporters could say whatever they wanted to umpires if they had paid to watch.

“As a panel we’ve tried to alleviate the abuse. The RFL has definitely been making inroads, they’ve introduced a match day official role that the club has to supply so we have a way to address some of those issues,” he said. 

“I will say the players in the Riverland are pretty good generally. We don’t have a massive amount of issues on the ground through all the grades.

“Some spectators can go over the top though, and the RFL is trying to address that the best way they can.”

Mr Charlton said while he had developed a thick skin to abuse from the stands, younger umpires had been put off. 

“We’re doing everything in our power to make sure we’ve got a few 16 to 18-year-old umpires doing A grade footy at the moment with us. 

A group of men wearing fluro green shirts standing in a row.
The umpiring team for Mr Charlton’s 500th game, including 16-year-old Max Jericho.(Supplied: Grant Schwartzkopf)

“We’re very conscious that we’re making sure we’re protecting them … but we also try and make sure there’s zero tolerance towards [abuse to] those umpires.”

Despite the occasional tough game to umpire and unruly comments from the grandstands, Mr Charlton is keen to keep umpiring in the region and nurturing the next generation. 

The umpiring coach said knowing he was giving back to local sport is what drives him to keep getting out there every week. 

“It’s no different to playing sport. Even though we’re out there umpiring we do have some jokes and some fun,” Mr Charlton said. 

“We train on a Wednesday night then go for a meal afterwards so it’s a bit of a social thing as well, so it’s something that’s just really good to be involved in.”