Goal umpire Ken Ray is applauded from the field. Picture: Supplied

KEN RAY is the perennial milestone man. Google the Sydney-based goal umpire and you'll see a plethora of articles relating to his 500th Premier Division match, his 600th match, his 800th game and his Hall of Fame induction in the NSW Australian Football Umpires Association.

On Saturday, June 15, he will officiate his 1000th match, waving the flags at Weldon Oval in an AFL Sydney Men's Premier Division clash between Manly-Warringah and Pennant Hills.

"I've had fun getting there," Ray said shortly after his 999th game as goal umpire. "It's been great."

His first season as a goal umpire came in 1989, coaxed into it at a match between St George and Wests at Olds Park. Ray knew the game well, having coached junior teams for more than a decade, so he was happy to try something new. More than three decades later, he's still plying his trade and teaching scores of umpires along the way.

His wisdom in setting up drills at training is invaluable and he's an example of professionalism on game day for others to follow. He also makes those uninitiated to the challenges of goal umpiring aware of the skills and concentration required.

"Around 75 per cent of the time as a goal umpire the ball's going over your head," he says when explaining why goal umpires need to go to training. "So then around 20 per cent of the time the ball is dropping on the line. If you're not on the line in the right position you leave yourself open to making a mistake." This simple sentence brings sharp focus on the importance of a goal umpire's role. The game is won and lost on their decisions.

Similarly, when asked why someone should pick up a whistle, Ray says: "If you want to make a lot of decisions, get in the field. If you want to do a lot of running and make some decisions, run the boundary. And if you want to make a decision based on exactly what you see, grab some flags and jump behind the goals. There are three very different disciplines which require different skillsets and personalities." In short, umpiring is for everyone.

Despite the different personalities required to make an umpiring panel, Ray cites the camaraderie and team atmosphere as the reasons why he keeps coming back. "When we go out as umpires we're part of a team, we're not just on our own," he says. "The interaction with other umpires is good and, generally, the reception we get from players is good, so it's just a nice place to be."

Ken Ray's seen a lot over his time, including umpiring nine AFL games. One of his fondest memories was having a front row seat to the Sydney Swans' 48-point comeback against the Kangaroos at the SCG in round four 1999. It was his first AFL match and the sound of 30,000 Swans fans willing their side over the line brings a simple reflection and sums up Ray's attitude to umpiring and football: "It was fun".