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‘I reckon they’re umpiring a bit scared’: Leigh Matthews questions AFL umpiring philosophy


When umpires are criticised for getting it wrong, usually it’s for calls they make, whistles they blow, infringements they penalise.

Yet AFL legend Leigh Matthews has questioned the current philosophy of AFL umpires who seem intent on keeping the whistle in their pocket, refusing to blow it when they probably should which ends up becoming “minimalist umpiring”.

“I would’ve thought that if you feel under pressure as an umpire you just don’t blow the whistle, and that is happening in the AFL these last couple of rounds,” Lethal Leigh Matthews tells David Morrow and Julian King on Macquarie Sports Radio.

“I look at the umpiring and very rarely do I see anything that I would call a clanger, but just at the moment, the umpiring philosophy that’s happening in all the games is to only pay a free kick if you think it’s 99% certain that it’s a free kick.

“To be honest, I reckon that slows the game down, it congests the game.

“If it’s a 75% free kick you should be paying it, because otherwise the players who play to the rules will eventually know the umpires aren’t going to be harsh on what we do so we can be sloppy in, say, tackling in the back or tackling high, or holding onto the ball for too long when you’re being tackled.

“I think the umpires have started that rod and it will be interesting to see what happens in the weeks ahead.”

Accompanying Matthews’ long and wildly successful career in football is a personal relationship with umpires and an understanding of their individual adjudicating style but he says there are a lot of umpires he presently knows little about.

“In other words, they’re fairly new umpires, you get to know the umpires but these are quite unknown so obviously they’re very new to the system.

“I reckon they’re umpiring a bit scared, and that fear comes out in not blowing the whistle unless they’re totally, totally certain that must be a free kick.

The quadruple premiership winning coach suggests the amount of public heat directed at the umpires over the season to date has influenced their philosophy and knocked about their confidence.

“I think they’re a bit fearful of blowing the whistle and making mistakes so the do nothing, they’re freezing.”

Click PLAY to hear more from ‘Lethal’ Leigh Matthews: