Fran Cudmore grew up in a footy household, which often meant heading down to Glenferrie Road in Melbourne to watch her father’s beloved Hawks, or other times, listening on the radio when the former wasn’t available. Fran was even a member of the Hawthorn cheer squad a few years later, so it’s safe to say, the Queensland community footy goal umpire has always had a soft spot for AFL.
Considering Fran started her umpiring career in her mid-fifties, she knows the value of experience and considers it an undervalued tool in the modern ref’s arsenal. So while she might not be as quick as some of the younger upstarts, her ability to read the play like a veteran has given her an edge, in an impressive career that just hit the 150 game mark.
“It makes goal umpiring easier, because you can anticipate what’s going to happen next and where the ball is going to come to, so you can be in the right position,” said Fran.
“That’s what I love about the game.”
Anyway, as her husband and fellow goal umpire Greg will say, when the greens are on she moves like she’s in her thirties. Greg would know to, because not only was he a community umpire coach for nearly ten years, he also goal umpires the opposite end to Fran most weeks.
It was a match made in Hawthorn, it could be said, as the two met at university studying politics and both were Hawks tragics. After moving to Queensland in 1998, Greg started as a community umpire coach in 2001, soon roping Fran in and she hasn’t looked back.
“It’s just a group of decent sports loving people,” said Fran, a part time English language teacher.
“They’re all team oriented and understand that when we come together . . . You’re there as a team to work together to make it the best game it can be.”
Greg remembers how happy he was to have her as part of the ‘Golden Rabbits’ gang of field umpires, a name based on an old umpiring newsletter he ran in Victoria called the ‘White Rabbit’ and the fact that back then, they wore gold uniforms. One day Greg devised a written test for the 50 Golden Rabbits and was impressed to discover Fran had topped the class. Roles have reversed in recent years and it’s now Fran, who quizzes Greg in the car on the way to their games.
“She’s always trying to think of new scenarios, because it’s very hard if you never actually grown up playing the game. Some umpires that I’ve coached, they were really keen as mustard and enthusiastic, but they would make mistakes because they hadn’t played,” said Greg, who also has a teaching background.
“So Fran realised that and so she would constantly ask ‘what should I do’ or ‘what should I have done here’ and it was that capacity to want to learn that’s been a feature of her umpiring.”
“She really grabbed it and wanted to be good at it, so she’d studied that rule book backwards.”
Fran had planned to build on her impressive career well past 150 games, but unfortunatly suffered a broken ankle recently, that will prevent her from umpiring at her best. It’s for that reason that she has sadly decided to retire.
Although her career has come to a halt, she remains a fantastic inspiration for anyone wanting to get involved in the umpiring world; it’s never to early and it’s never too late.
By Sean Melrose