At only age 25, Greek Australian umpire Eleni Glouftsis left her imprint on Australian football by making history as the first female field umpire to officiate and take control of last weekend’s AFL clash between Essendon and West Coast at Etihad Stadium.
“I was pretty pleased for the game to be over. It was a really big build up but I’m really pleased to get the first one under the belt and finished with now,” said Eleni in an interview with Neos Kosmos.
The AFL made the announcement last Monday, however Glouftsis, who has already umpired pre-season football including four JLT series matches this year, had been eligible to umpire as an emergency since the start of last season.
Glouftsis officiated well overall and was pleased with the feedback from AFL umpires’ boss Hayden Kennedy, but an unusually soft re-laid strip of turf in the centre of Etihad Stadium made it difficult for her to elevate the ball high enough at centre bounces, a situation that also was evident in Saturday’s clash between St Kilda and Sydney at the Docklands Stadium.
“I am generally a pretty good bouncer so I was pretty disappointed, to be honest, with the way I bounced today,” Glouftsis said.
“But at the end of the day, it’s about the decisions and I think I did an OK job with that.”
The three umpires – Eleni Glouftsis, Simon Meredith, and Shaun Ryan – had already noticed the softness in the warm-ups and were unhappy after attempting to proceed as normal in the first half.
Nevertheless, Glouftsis gave it her best and was encouraged by the response she received by players from both sides.
“Many of them have seen me through the VFL and the SANFL a few years ago. When I had a poor bounce a lot of the boys were like ‘just keep going, be confident’, which is really lovely. I’ve been very lucky in umpiring and everyone around me were all really positive. At every level the players were really encouraging and happy to see me up there doing games. I’d urge people to have a go. It’s been a great experience for me.”
Glouftsis, who also served as sports captain at her school Adelaide High, began umpiring in 2008 and was placed in the AFL female pathway scholarship in 2015. She became the first female field umpire in senior SANFL history in 2013. She has umpired 33 VFL games, and 15 SANFL games.
Growing up in a Greek Australian family as the youngest of three children, she knows a thing or two about grit and the determination which comes through hard work, as well as support and encouragement from the family unit. Eleni’s father Tom, who comes from a little village near Thessaloniki, and her mother Dianne, have never missed one of their daughter’s games.
“There’s been so many people to thank for their support in me being able to reach this point. I think in particular my mum, dad and nanna, who come to all my games. They’ve been so supportive through my whole journey; it’s just been fantastic. My partner Dylan, obviously being a boundary umpire in the AFL, has been understanding of all my commitments and has been really encouraging and motivating.”
Eleni’s first AFL match took a toll physically, and the young school teacher admits that the physical aspect of umpiring is also the most challenging.
“The fitness and the running times to reach have been a huge challenge. I’ve had to really work hard on my running times and my fitness with a lot of extra work, to be able to keep pace with the movement of the players at AFL level. That’s been the biggest challenge in just how quickly the game moves. You must be in good positions to make the right decisions and that’s been a lot of work.
“We train as a full group two days a week and then we do extra individual sessions ourselves. I swim a couple of mornings a week but the running is the big area I keep working on,” Glouftsis explains.
While the South Australian is the first female field umpire, there have been several female goal umpires who have officiated at the highest level with the first being Katrina Pressley in 1998. The most prolific has been Chelsea Roffey, who made her senior debut in 2004 and umpired the 2012 AFL Grand Final.
“In the wider umpiring community, there’s so many other people like Shane Harris in the SANFL and all of the AFL coaches Hayden Kennedy, Peter Schwab, Wayne Campbell, Adam Davis, Stephen McBurney, Bryan Sheehan. Just about every single person out there has been fantastic and I can’t thank everyone enough for their support. The big thing for me going forward is improving my fitness and making sure I can do all the running that is required,” says Eleni who is hoping to inspire her students and other girls to get involved with AFL and umpiring.
“The school’s support with both training and recent media activities has been fantastic and really supportive. The students have also been really positive and the move to Melbourne has been wonderful,” says Glouftsis who admits that if there is one thing she really hopes for herself is to be treated as ‘normally’ as her umpire colleagues.
“I understand how significant it was to have my first game but I’m really pleased to have it out of the way and just be concentrating on my umpiring.”
The AFL Umpires Association favours the abolition of the centre bounce, although the final decision will rest with the AFL Commission.