GEOFF Osborn's heart beats true for the red and the blue – of SANFL club Norwood – but he's perfectly happy barracking for Melbourne at this year's Toyota AFL Grand Final.
Being among the crowd is Osborn's reward for winning the Toyota AFL National Umpiring Community Service Award, recognising his contribution over 49 years.
After returning from National Service in the early 1970s, Osborn, a teacher, started umpiring to help at school matches in Adelaide. He also played in the back pocket for Athelstone Football Club and coached footy at the Pooraka Primary School.
"Because I'd played, I tended to get nominated to umpire school matches. [Football legends] Dwayne Russell and Craig Bradley were in the school team, which was pretty lucky," he reflects.
ALL THE WINNERS The 2021 Toyota AFL National Volunteer Awards
Osborn took up senior umpiring to stay in the game, and it has remained part of his life ever since, whether running around as a club umpire in the Adelaide Footy League or helping SANFL junior umpires find their feet.
"It's a lot of fun. I just really enjoy umpiring. I enjoyed playing footy, and played around 190 games, but I just enjoy still being involved. There's a buzz being out there amongst the players and being part of the game," he says.
The opportunity to shadow an experienced umpire in Osborn has provided countless young footy-lovers the chance to try their hand at umpiring – among them, Eleni Glouftsis, the AFL's first female field umpire, who ran with Osborn in her first ever game.
"She came out to practice with the North Eastern Metro Junior Football Association, and we didn't have many females running around in those days," he recalls. "She was pretty much on her own. Seeing her in her first SANFL game was fantastic, and I got a big reward seeing El doing her first AFL game."
Osborn continues to support and mentor junior umpires, including girls coming through the ranks. But regardless of gender, if they want to umpire, he's keen to give them a go.
Preparing for his first trip to Perth to witness a historic AFL Grand Final, he says the award was overwhelming, but emphasised the growing support for umpiring as a critical part of grassroots football.
"Umpires are people who like footy, and it gives them a great opportunity to be part of the game," he says.
"The old saying goes, 'You don't have a game without the umpire,' but they're an important part of the game. Just like footballers, they need to be the best they can. By being good at it, they improve the game of footy."