EbeneMagazine – AU – The story of an AFL border judge on life in a hub, great

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My partner and I left Melbourne early in the morning on the first Monday in July

It looked a bit like a mysterious theft as we only knew where we were going right before we left

We headed over to what I was doing as a referee for AFL Footy at one of the interstate hubs for a few weeks before the games returned to Melbourne

Now 111 days, 25 coronavirus tests, six hotels and 1,000 kilometers later, I’m almost ready to drive home

It was an amazing journey of ups and downs as I played my little part in trying to maintain this game, loved by so many Australians,

My first task at the beginning of July was to organize work from home in an interstate hotel on very short notice

My daily job is as a reporter in the ABC Asia-Pacific newsroom and luckily my boss has been very accommodating

One of the first bizarre experiences happened when we boarded the charter flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport

Instead of crossing the main part of the airport, we waited with hundreds of other players, referees and AFL staff in a private terminal before walking directly across the tarmac to the plane

In these COVID times, there is no food on planes and people are as dispersed as possible

We checked into our first hotel in Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast with dozens of other referees and their families

Since we all share the same floor of the hotel and have breakfast, lunch and dinner together, we quickly felt like an eighth grade camp with all your friends

Under the strict 14-day quarantine rules, he was not allowed to leave the hotel premises

As a border arbiter, a high degree of running ability is key to the job

My colleague Michael Marantelli, who is also leading the grand final today, set the record in one of his heats with 211 uninterrupted kilometers around the oval

I was getting ready for a Saturday afternoon game at Gold Coast Stadium between Fremantle and St Kilda

But right before I left for the game, my seat was suddenly in doubt – my COVID test result had not arrived and in no case was a player or official involved in the games allowed to participate without registering a negative result in advance

Thanks to the good work of our hub manager, he was able to enter the laboratory and confirm that the result was negative

We were tested before every game and, if we were lucky, sometimes a few times a week

By my calculations, I’ve run around 25 tests over the past few months – some less entertaining than others

Every once in a while I would draw blood as my favorites were with a certain man who was fast and said « just a little nostril now »

Often there were a few people in the ranks to position themselves and recruit one of the « friendly » testers

After a week in Southport it was time to move to another hotel for logistical reasons

As with the previous hotel, we shared our accommodation with a few football clubs and families, as well as partners of players and officials

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Melbourne, people gathered around televisions on Wednesday this week when AFL chief Gillon McLachlan announced Melbourne would be out of control for the foreseeable future

Suddenly what I was holding for a few weeks looked more like a few months

By early next week we had arrived at our third hotel, this time in Broadbeach, where we would be pretty happy for the next few months

Life in the hub meant limiting interaction with the public, not sitting in cafes, restaurants or the like, always keeping a social distance and following strict rules that other umpires might meet

It took a lot of work with governments and other stakeholders to ensure the season continues safely

While it wasn’t always easy to be away from home and follow such strict rules, we were aware of the difficult times that so many other Australians were going through, especially Melbourne

But if we could help gain a foothold on TV and in stadiums for the fans, we would be happy

The next three months of the life of the Hub, like 2020 in general, have been full of twists and turns and unexpected moments

I had never rehearsed three games in just over a week before, but that’s what came with the “footy frenzy” periods of the season where the games were played every day

No more large group meetings on the route and no more meetings in theaters, but run alone and train with Zoom

I did a running session on a gravel road in a bushy area near Surfers Paradise that I won’t soon forget

I moved at a speed of a little over three minutes and kilometers, I breathed a lot and I kept my watch on my watch

It turned out that I had to watch the trail more closely as I was a few inches away from stomping on a snake

I noticed it at the last second, just like me I jumped and it jumped

Luckily we got away with it unscathed – other than an increase in heart rate, which I struggled to reduce

By mid-October, I had re-hacked the 18 round-trip laps, with trips to Adelaide and Cairns between and three finals

The last Sunday before the big last day is always a scary day for the referees – we’re just waiting to find out who got picked for the biggest game of all

As soon as I saw the trainer’s name appear on my phone in the late afternoon, my heart rate exploded again

And as soon as I answered, I immediately listened for clues in his voice of good or bad news

I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in several epic grand finals, including the 2010 draw

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Australian Football League, referee

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