Suitcase...check, whistle...check

James Ralston is a young umpire on the move. Ralston, 26, who is rapidly progressing along the AFL’s umpiring pathway, has also just returned from South Africa as part of the recent AIS-AFL Academy tour.

Ralston umpired each of the three tour matches including the clash between the Australian under 17’s and the South Africa Lions at Boland Park, Paarl, just outside of Cape Town. As only the third umpire to tour South Africa with the AIS-AFL Academy, Ralston was aware of the enormity of the privilege. “To receive an Australian guernsey was the biggest thrill. I could have never imagined that umpiring would give me the opportunity to represent my country nor would it take me to South Africa. It was the most humbling experience,” said a delighted Ralston.

For the young South Australian, the tour was not all about football and umpiring but also a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. “To see countless South African’s living in corrugated iron houses smaller than most living rooms yet still never stop smiling is a major lesson in appreciation. It really put things into perspective,” said Ralston. 

Although he may have been the only umpire in the forty man touring team, Ralston had no trouble fitting in. “There was the usual banter that comes with being an umpire but generally the group was tremendous. The young squad members were quite interested in seeing the game from a different angle, many of which were quite inquisitive.”

The ambitious Ralston who is currently a field umpire in the SANFL joined the academy team after his outstanding performance at last year’s NAB U18 National Championships.

As part of his well rounded development, Ralston seized the opportunity to umpire in the Darwin Summer League between 2002 and 2004. Umpiring in temperatures of 32 degrees and 50 percent humidity sounds like anyone’s worst nightmare, but not for Ralston. “I loved every minute of it,” he said. Ralston spent two years umpiring in the Northern Territory and was in no confusion as to the highlight. “Umpiring the Bathurst Island Grand Final was unforgettable. The island has a population of around 1,000 people yet over 3,000 packed the rural ground for the decider.”

At the age of 26, the Sports Management graduate still has time on his side to fulfil his dream of joining the elite AFL umpiring ranks. “I’ve been told that my window is still clearly open. Hayden Kennedy is flying at 43 years of age so I see no reason why that window should close just yet.”

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