THERE has rightly been a lot of focus this season on VFL legend Ben Jolley closing in on becoming just the third man to play 300 VFA/VFL games and then breaking the games record of Billy Swan a few weeks later.
But there are other historic firsts quietly being ticked off in the State league as highly respected field umpire Andrew Talbot prepares to become the most capped official in the league’s long and storeyed history.
Talbot, who fittingly wears the VFL Umpires Association’s No.1 shirt, will lead the umpiring team onto Box Hill City Oval on Saturday to blow the whistle on his 236th VFL senior match when the Hawks take on Jolley’s Williamstown.
In doing so he will break the record of 235 held by goal umpire Peter Balding.
Talbot, who became the longest-serving field umpire in league history when he went past his mentor Dan Beard in Round 1, told the State of Play podcast this week that umpiring was always going to be his destiny.
“Dad tells a weird story that when I was a little kid I was in the car and I pointed out a bumper sticker that said ‘Be an umpire’ and I said ‘I want to do that’,” Talbot said.
“It would have been when I was five or six years old, so I think deep down it was always meant to be and I just needed to find how to get started.”
Talbot began as a boundary umpire in the Diamond Valley (now Northern) league in 2002 after he realised he wasn’t suited to playing but simply loved the game too much to walk away.
He called his first game as a field umpire in 2003 and quickly rose through the ranks, making the VFL development squad in 2008 before being promoted to the senior list the following year.
Talbot made his debut on the same ground he will break the record at in a Round 2 clash between Box Hill and Northern Bullants.
He went on to umpire the 2009 and 2013 TAC Cup (now Coates Talent League) Grand Finals and was the emergency umpire for 2012 VFL decider before being promoted to the AFLUA rookie list in 2013.
He spent three seasons on the list and was capped as an AFL umpire when he went on as an injury replacement for Jason Armstrong in the second quarter of the Round 3 clash between North Melbourne and Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium in 2014.
While there were sadly no more opportunities at AFL level, the State league honours kept coming.
Talbot officiated the last VFL Development League Grand Final in 2017, before a memorable 2018 season that saw him named the VFL Field Umpire of the Year and take charge of the Box Hill Hawks’ 2018 Grand Final win over Casey Demons.
Talbot became a VFL Life Member when he reached the 175-game threshold in 2019 – and his love for the game, its players and characters has never diminished.
“The challenge of being involved in the game is quite a privilege,” he said.
“I just love being involved in football. I grew up going to the footy with the family every single weekend. My mum took me interstate just to go watch football, so I grew up living and breathing the game.
“Being involved in State league footy is quite humbling. I’ve umpired some pretty darn good players like Ben Jolley, who was playing before I started umpiring and he’s still running around, which is nice to see.
“There are other players you come across like Roughead in his last year. My first senior game I umpired Adem Yze, who had just finished up at Melbourne, and in between so many good players and so many good people in umpiring.”
Talbot said the releationships made along the way had contributed to his longevity in the game.
“I’ve made so many friends throughout the years through umpiring, being coached by people, being mentored by others.
“You just get to know so many good people at all levels of the game that it is such a lovely environment to be part of.
“The Grand Finals are illustrious to come by so they’re the ones I’m pretty proud of, but at the end of the day I’m just most proud of the people I’ve been able to connect with and the lifelong friendships I’ve been able to take away from the game.”
Tune in to the full interview with Andrew Talbot on the State of Play: VFL/W Podcast in the player above. The interview commences at 14:15.