Chelsea Roffey at the match between Melbourne and Hawthorn in R23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

AN AUDIENCE with the Prime Minister isn't what you'd call typical preparation for an AFL Grand Final.

But then again, Chelsea Roffey's career as one of the most recognisable goal umpires in the game has been anything but typical.

"I remember Julia Gillard wanted access to the umpire rooms before the game," Roffey recalls.

"There was a lot happening."

It was 2012 and Roffey was re-writing the history books as the first woman to umpire in an AFL decider. Gillard – Australia's first and only female PM – was in the middle of her three-year run in the top job.

"It was epic. The lead up was nuts," Roffey says.

"It was amazing to go to the Grand Final parade and be part of that. And then finally to walk out onto the ground. I still remember waiting in the race and thinking to myself, ‘This is it'. It was a super cool feeling."

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013, and goal umpire Chelsea Roffey meet during the 2012 Toyota AFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Standing in the race, Roffey recalls her heart beating out of her chest.

"But then," she says. "It was a moment of calm."

And a modern masterpiece of a Grand Final, with Sydney and Hawthorn trading blows, momentum swings and opportunities to lift the silverware.

Goal umpire Chelsea Roffey during the 2012 Toyota AFL Grand Final parade. Picture: AFL Photos

A clarinettist, Roffey likens her 2012 ceiling-breaking moment as another performance, albeit in front of a slightly bigger audience.

"It was an amazing game," Roffey says.

"I didn't have the Malceski goals (down my end) though!"


THIS Saturday shapes as another milestone for Roffey.

While the fixture will show Collingwood and Port Adelaide at the MCG, it will also be Roffey's 300th game as an AFL umpire.

She's the 58th umpire to notch 300 games, but only the eighth goal umpire to reach the triple ton.

"I suppose when you get into umpiring you don't really think about milestones," she says. 

"You just want to get through that first game and enjoy the experiences that you've had. But I can't quite believe I'm up to game 300."


That first game was 20 years ago and is crystallised in Roffey's mind.

"August the 8th. Brisbane v West Coast," she recites. "And I still remember – because I was such a footy fan – it was the first time of being there, very specifically in a role, but still with all of these heroes running around.

"It was like, 'Oh my God, there is Michael Voss!'"

And not just Voss. The likes of Nigel Lappin, Darryl White, Jason Akermanis and Simon Black for the Lions. Not to mention Chris Judd, Dean Cox and Daniel Kerr for the Eagles.

They won that day, the Eagles, by 14 points.

"It does feel like yesterday when I was just stepping out onto the Gabba for the first time," Roffey says. "I can still vividly remember what that was like.

"For the first time, not being on the outer and being where the action was."

Chris Judd and Michael Voss shake hands before West Coast's clash against Brisbane in round 19, 2004, which was Chelsea Roffey's first game. Picture: AFL Photos

It's easy to see why Roffey is often described as a trailblazer, albeit not through her eyes. If anything, she's a reluctant one.

"It's a really nice word and I feel very humbled by it," she manages to squeeze out.

But Roffey is keen to change tact.

"Katrina Pressley was the first trailblazer," she continues. 

"She was the first woman to umpire in the AFL and I was there in the stands when she was umpiring. I remember being at Gabba games and looking down and seeing her behind the goals.

"I suppose that planted the seed of possibility."

Goal umpire Katrina Pressley during a clash between Brisbane and Richmond in round six, 1998. Picture: AFL Photos

Seeing is believing. While Presley blazed the trail, Roffey was the lone female umpire in the AFL for about a decade.


SPEAKING to Roffey is easy and enlightening.

And were it not for umpire training upstairs at Marvel Stadium this Tuesday evening, there's a world in where this conversation stretches into the next hour.

But she's busy.

A mother to two-year-old Bonnie – who likes to emulate her mum by practising with the goal flags – Roffey is performing the juggling act required of many working mothers.

"I've discovered there is no such thing as perfect preparation," Roffey laughs.

Goal umpire Chelsea Roffey calls for a score review during Hawthorn's clash against Fremantle in round 24, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"And I'm probably learning the art of self-compassion a lot more.

"As a parent, you can't beat up on yourself all of the time. You don't have time to fixate on whether it was a perfect performance, which you can very much drill down to with the amount of scrutiny that we undergo."

Scrutiny. That word stings a little. Whether it's from over the fence or woven into the broadcast, the heat on umpires is at crescendo level this season.

Yet it's something Roffey has managed throughout her two decades in the job because she is so identifiable.

"Cheer squads would have a chat with you before the game," she says.

"That could go really well or really horribly. There's a lot of things that pull at your focus when you're a little bit different or a little bit recognisable. I always joke they have razor sharp observations and I always welcome the encouragement."

Speaking of razor sharp observations, it seems every punter has one – or indeed, multiple – when it comes to goal umpires and their ability to keep their nerve in 2024.

With the advent and increase of technology, Roffey has first-hand experience of the shifting landscape of being an umpire – the good, the bad and the ugly.

"I would suggest it's a slightly less instinctive way of umpiring with technology because you have to – at some point – really question what your decision is in a split second," Roffey explains.

"I suppose that's the challenge. Instead of instinctively giving the signal, you've got to then show a bit of composure and ask if there's anything I might have missed, do we need to check it?

"That's certainly changed. I suppose it does slow things down which people don't always like."

Umpire Nathan Williamson and goal umpire Chelsea Roffey are seen during Carlton's clash against Adelaide in round five, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

But most people haven't navigated the technical skill that's required of umpires.

"It's all about positioning and being in the right place at the right time," Roffey says. "We're expected to be centimetre perfect.

"We're expected to be either on line for a contest or behind the flight at the appropriate depth and angle to make sure we're catching any deflections. There is a craft to it."


WHILE more women are umpiring, they remain a minority.

And that's something League HQ wants to change.

In Season 8 of the AFLW, 30 per cent of umpires were women, up from 15 per cent the previous season.

In the AFL, it's Roffey, Sally Boud and Taylor Mattioli – all goal umpires – who lead the way, along with field umpire Eleni Tee.

(L-R) Umpires Taylah Parker, Emilie Hill, Jess Gaffney, Katelin Bayer and Elena Tee during Adelaide's clash against Port Adelaide in round one of the 2023 AFLW season. Picture: AFL Photos

"My whole experience has been coloured by the gender lens and I'm very aware of it," Roffey says.

"I've been very aware of the scrutiny around that. Not even just with colleagues and coaches, but more generally with the footy public and how I'm perceived.

"In the beginning it was maybe something I rejected a bit. I didn't really want to be seen as the female umpire.

"But you get a bit older and wiser and you think, ‘Women are pretty cool'."