If there’s one thing more challenging than the pressures of playing Australian Rules at the elite level each week, it’s officiating it.
But that hasn’t deterred Leigh Fisher from becoming an AFL umpire.
The former Saint has taken up the role since finishing his playing career, and isn’t affected by the negative demands associated with arguably the toughest job in sport.
But as Fisher explains to aflplayers.com.au, donning the green shirt has its challenges.
“mentally, I find umpiring more challenging than playing, because you can’t switch off for one minute” – Leigh Fisher
“Umpiring is probably more intense mentally, while physically we’re constantly running up and back and the demands are probably similar to playing – except you don’t have the bumps, which makes it a lot easier. But in terms of mentally, I find it’s probably more challenging because you can’t switch off for one minute,” Fisher said.
“It’s a completely different dynamic because you arrive at the rooms and there might be only six or eight umpires and there’s three field umpires so that’s your team, I suppose.
“You have to create your own environment; you don’t have 20 other blokes getting you up. But you still want to remain calm and focused and don’t want to get pumped up like you are playing.”
Fisher’s career in the AFL began in 2003 after getting drafted from Sandringham with pick 46 in the 2002 National Draft, playing 10 matches across his first three seasons at the Saints.
In 2006, the then 22-year-old established himself in the club’s best 22, playing 36 games across the next two seasons as a small defender/midfielder including his first and only final at the end of 2006.
The following three seasons registered just nine games (all in 2009) for Fisher before his AFL career ended in 2010, but he holds no regrets and isn’t bothered by the injuries that riddled him throughout his time at the elite level.
“you want to remain calm and focused and don’t want to get pumped up like you are playing” – Leigh Fisher on umpiring
“I was at the club for eight years and played 55 games but probably missed 70 through injury. I wouldn’t really change anything and the experience I had during that time was amazing.”
But what motivates a player to become the very body that can frustrate so many clubs and fans? For the 31-year-old it was as simple as an expression of interest from the umpires.
“I was delisted while still having a year to go on my contract and the umpires spoke to me at that time. I had never thought about umpiring at that stage and I said, ‘look, I’m interested but I still have a year on my contract,’ so I went back to St Kilda to see if I could turn my fortunes in the next 12 months. Nothing came of that final season so I jumped straight into umpiring.”
Now approaching his 50th AFL match as an umpire, Fisher still keeps fit by cycling and even went overseas to participate in one of the most popular public sporting events in the world.
“I usually jump on the bike once a week and get down on Beach Road for a spin down to Frankston or wherever. It’s good to meet up with other people outside of footy and have a bit of a chat.
“Last year I signed up with a few of the other umpiring boys and headed over to the New York and knocked off the marathon. I snuck in in just under three hours, which was the goal, so we achieved it.”