The "Secret" Signals Between Umpires in Australian Football

In the National Australian Football (AFL) competition, each game has nine umpiring officials who act as a team to adjudicate the rules of the game. There are three field umpires, four border umpires and two goal umpires. To create a successful game from their perspective, they must work as a team during the game. At different points in the game, the field and border umpires; the field and goal umpires and lastly the goal and border umpires work as small teams within the game.

These working relationships are helped by the use of signals between each group to ensure the smooth running of the game.

Initially, it is the goal umpires’ responsibility to get the team on the oval on time and to make sure each of the other umpires is correctly dressed and have their equipment. (Whistles, pen and report forms). Once on the field, with the game ready to start, the field umpires take control.

Below is a discussion on how each group of umpires communicate during a game.

Field to field umpires:

One umpire will begin each section of the play and control the play until it moved too far away so he hands over the play verbally by saying “Yours” to the umpire nearest the play and then moves into his next position on the field. If he wants to continue control due to a stoppage in play he slaps his backside, usually three times, while the other umpires adjust their adjudicating position for the next continuation of play.

The field umpire in control of the play will give signals designed for the players. These could include a play on call and signal or a signal to indicate a free kick and why it was awarded.

Field and border umpires:

The border umpire rules on when the football crosses the border line. He indicates this by blowing his whistle and raising his arm/s to indicate how the ball crossed the border line.

If the ball runs over the border after bouncing, the border umpire raises his arm vertically as he blows the whistle to indicate the ball is out of border. The field umpires blows his whistle and signals a throwing action over his head to indicate to the border umpire to throw the football back into play.

If the football flies over the border line on the complete, the border umpires raises both arms similar to the ground and indicates where the ball crosses the border line for the field umpire to place the opposition player on the mark to allow a free kick to be taken by the attacking player.

If the ball goes over the border line but was touched in flight, the border umpire raises one arm vertically and hits his raised arm three times to indicated it was touched. Then if it appear to be kicked over on the complete but came off the leg above the knee, the border umpire will hit his knee three times to indicate this happening.

When the football is in the area of the behind post, there are three scenarios. They are:

  • Out of bounds on the complete when hitting the behind post; (The border umpire’s arms are stretched similar to the ground and the behind post is touched.)
  • Out of bounds hitting the behind post on the complete but touched; (The border umpire hits the post and then indicates it was touched by hitting his raised arms three times)and
  • Out of bounds hitting the behind post after bouncing in play. (The border umpire raises his arm to indicate the ball is out of bounds).

The goal umpire can assist in these situations by giving signals to the border umpire:

  • Outer arm raised similar to the ground to indicate the ball is out on the complete or hit the behind post on the complete. He will also touch the post.
  • If the ball is simply out of bounds, he raises his outer arm vertically. Again if it hit the post after bouncing, he will also hit the behind post.

Field and goal umpires;

When a score is detected by a goal umpire he will move forward to the goal line, stop and wait to get the “all clear” from the field umpire. There are five scenarios here. They are

  • A goal is scored; (The field umpire will put both hands on either side of his confront and call “all clear”).
  • A behind is scored; (The field umpire will put one hand up to his confront and call “all clear”).
  • The ball is touched in flight; (The field umpire will put one hand up to his confront, then raise one arm vertically and hit it with the other hand while calling “touched, all clear”).
  • The field umpire is unsure. (He puts both arms behind his back and calls “all clear” suggesting it is the goal umpire’s decision).

Once the all clear is given, the goal umpire will signal the consequence. Sometimes he will indicate the ball is touched or has hit the goal post mirroring similar signals made by other umpires.

border and goal umpires:

The goal and border umpires exchange signals. They include:

  • The goal umpire hitting chest to indict a behind has been scored to indicate that the border umpire can move out along the border line ready for play to begin again. If the goal umpire move forward for an “all clear” from the field umpire he is suggesting to the border umpire that a goal has been scored and he and his fellow border umpire must retrieve the football to return it to the centre square.
  • The goal umpire hits backside to indicate he knows the border is in place beside the behind post.
  • The goal umpire receives a call from border umpire to tell him that he is in place beside the behind post.
  • The border umpire points to behind or goal area to indicate a score has occurred to the goal umpire
  • Lastly, when a confused situation occurs in the scoring area, the goal umpire steps out over the goal line towards the field umpire to indicate that they need to have a conference with all umpires in the vicinity.

At umpire training, all these scenarios are practiced. After each match, “Problem” situations are discussed and the action taken by the various umpires is reviewed. Often these “problem” situations are ones rarely experienced by most umpires and may affect the consequence of the game. So the correct procedure is discussed for use in the future.

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