Nowhere among the cavalcade of retirees feted at the MCG on grand final day did you see David Flegg, although his contribution to AFL matches should not go unrecognised.
David, an MCC member for more than 25 years, retired as a goal umpire at the end of the season after a VFL/AFL record 337 matches.
After breaking the previous mark of 335 games, he manned the MCG goal square one last time in the Round 23 Hawthorn-Western Bulldogs encounter before calling it a day.
“I’ve seen too many people go on one year too long, both players and umpires,” the 47-year-old said of his decision to retire, after coming back from an injury-riddled 2010. “I could see my performance slipping slightly, so I felt the time was right.”
David’s resume is formidable. He umpired three grand finals (1991, 1993 and 2006), 19 finals and two international matches. He was declared Goal Umpire of the Year by the AFL Umpires’ Association (AFLUA) on no fewer than seven occasions.
Off the field, his passion for umpiring knows no bounds. A life member of the AFLUA, he has served as the association’s historian/statistician for nearly 20 years, meticulously compiling the records of every VFL/AFL umpire in the history of the game, among other worthy projects.
“David is considered one of the greatest contributors to umpiring within Australian football,” said Victorian Football Umpires’ Association president Peter Kelly. “His extraordinary achievements at the highest level are matched by a contribution to the broader football umpiring community.”
Reflecting on his career highlights, David says it’s hard to go past those three grand finals. The first in ’91 at Waverley was particularly special because he umpired with close friend and fellow MCC member Leigh Keen.
However, earning selection for the 2006 decider meant just as much because of the 13-year wait to return to the last Saturday in September. And he awarded the final goal (to Ben Cousins) in what was ultimately a one-point result.
Of 1993, he says no before the question is finished. He wasn’t the umpire who adjudicated the famous Michael Long running goal in the ’decider that Stephen Silvagni so animatedly claimed to have touched. He was at the other end!
David was approached by the AFL within a week of retirement to be a trainee timekeeper in 2012. It was an offer he accepted gladly, even if it means he’ll have fewer opportunities to use his MCC membership.
“I use by membership to watch the cricket more than anything else, because I haven’t needed it to access footy matches,” he says.
“After retiring, I went to every AFL final this year in the Members Reserve. To be a member and to be able to use those wonderful facilities any time I like, it’s fantastic.”
One suspects it may be some time before this dedicated member of the umpiring fraternity has a free weekend in winter. But the game of football is better for that.