Before this year, James Olle had not umpired since 2003, but his experience and knowledge of the game has allowed him to become a key part of the AFL Europe umpiring team.
As a 14-year-old, James decided to take up boundary umpiring – a common way to begin for many – after seeing some posters at his school in Ararat, Victoria, that was promoting boundary umpiring. As a long-distance runner, James found that he was pretty good on the boundary, and with the fact that he earnt a bit of money plus he found something he enjoyed, it made sense to continue this for a couple of years.
After two years, plus a year overseas as part of a school exchange, James came back to Australia and decided to become a field umpire, going on to complete both the Level 1 and 2 accreditation that allowed him to umpire at a senior level.
James moved to Melbourne from the country for university and in the process, got invited to spend the 2000 season with the VFL Umpire Academy. He, unfortunately, didn’t get a “coveted” VFL appointment but continued for a number of seasons in the Essendon District Football League and Victoria Amateur Football Association.
He then made a decision to follow another interest that he had since his childhood and restarted playing field hockey. As that clashed with umpiring on Saturday afternoons, he put the whistle away in 2003.
Photo by Danny Radis Photography
That was a while ago, but the kind of experience James developed throughout his time as boundary and with a number of high-quality umpiring groups means that now he is back on the field with the whistle looking to help assist any up and coming umpires within Europe.
One thing that differs with James to many umpires, not just in Europe, but also back in Australia, is the fact that he is still heavily involved with a club and tries to play whenever possible.
“I am excited to be back umpiring. Last year I was aware of some opportunities but found it hard to stay in the loop so to solve it I started a footy club in Geneva, and this helped launch our new Swiss league and gave me somewhere to regularly umpire,” Olle said.
“I know I am not as sharp or as fit as I used to be, so I think my best days are behind me! Certainly, the desire to umpire big games always remains but after such a long break from umpiring, wherever umpires are needed I’m always eager to jump in. The game is growing so rapidly in Europe, and, with that, the need for a bigger pool of officials. I hope to assist with the development of umpiring in Europe and share my experiences with new umpires.”
James, along with a number of other football fans in Switzerland, started the Geneva Jets towards the end of 2018, and they competed in the inaugural AFL Switzerland League in 2019.
Photo by Danny Radis Photography
Before this year, he had never played the game, but now he plays as often as he can, usually pulling on the Jets guernsey before putting on the fluoro yellow umpiring top as he officiates up to three games a day during the summer for the Switzerland league.
James was involved at last week’s European Championships, running with a number of AFL Europe umpires across a range of disciplines, from field to boundary and goals. He was also fortunate enough to run with AFL umpire Matt Stevic and also attended an umpiring course with Stevic and fellow AFL umpire, Brett Rosebury, an experience that he and his fellow AFL Europe umpires will remember for a long time.
He also umpired at this year’s AFL Europe Champions League, including the men’s semi-final between the West London Wildcats and the Belfast Redbacks, where James was awarded the Golden Whistle.
It appears that James is excited to continue growing the game in Switzerland, where he has lived since 2006, and with his experience not just in umpiring with the game in general, the sport is in good hands and has a bright future ahead with James around.
Angus Boyle – AFL Europe