2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Martin Hopp

Martin Hopp was born to be a rugby league man. His grandfather Frank Hopp was a life member of Easts Rugby League Club and the Easts Juniors clubhouse is named in honour of his father Keith. But at age six his father gave him a choice – Australian rules, rugby league, rugby union or soccer. He chose to chase the Sherrin and wound up a great of Queensland umpiring.

“Neither of us can remember why but I chose to play Australian rules and I’m very glad I did,” he says, more than 50 years on, having played at Coorparoo from Under-7s to Under-17s before he fell in love with umpiring. Going on to umpire 286 senior AFLQ games, including five grand finals and six interstate games, he became an influential figure among the umpiring ranks on and off the field.

Like his life-time good mate and fellow umpiring great Murray Bird, Hopp played in the 1974 Coorparoo Under-12’s grand final side with two-time Grogan Medallist Brendan McMullen, regular senior players David Fagg, Ross McKinnon, Mal Thompson and Warren Bobbermein, and a fella called Dunstall. Jason Dunstall.

A representative player at primary school, he said of himself: “I was a kid who would start a fight and let the big guys bail me out. Then I didn’t grow when everyone else did so playing football seriously was never going to be an option.”

In 1977 he spotted an advertisement in the QAFL Grand Final Record that said ‘Umpires Wanted’ and his focus changed. He spoke to his rugby league-loving father and called then BJAFL boss Frank Sargent. He rolled up to his first training session, run by then umpires’ boss Neville Sandford in a hall in the Valley, and who should be there? Bird. The partnership continued as he took up the whistle to earn some pocket money from 1978.

Educated at St. Laurence’s College, he was obliged to play union for the school but umpired junior Australian rules games on the side. It made for a full Saturday, but his father was a willing taxi driver. He was already a convert and became a willing worker and later a Board Member at Coorparoo. He didn’t miss a game the code hopper played or umpired until he was about 20.

Hopp umpired the Australian Teal Cup Under-17 carnival in Sydney, when Simon Hose was a Queensland standout, and did his first senior game in 1981 with veteran Alan Alcock. It was Wilston-Grange v Sherwood at Hickey Park. The two bottom sides. That’s just how it was. In the same year as a 19-year-old he controlled the Sunshine Coast League Grand Final and soon became a fixture on the senior QAFL panel.

He umpired the QAFL grand final in 1989-90-91-94-95, and did the curtain-raiser to the Brisbane Bears’ first game at Carrara in 1987 – a special moment amid the realisation that Queensland football really had joined the big-time. Everything went up a notch, including umpire training.

He went on to umpire 25 AFL Reserves games and various AFL pre-season games, but it was a tough road for an interstater. Representative games were a great compensation, and he remembers extra fondly a Queensland game against Tasmania at Windsor Park in 1985. They won by 96 points to complete a 1983-84-85 hat-trick in the competition against NSW, ACT and Tasmania that ultimately played a huge role in the birth of the Brisbane Bears.

Special characters he met along the way? “Brendan McMullen and Jason Cotter were two players who were always exceptional. Laurie Pendrick was always hard to deal with, and John Blair was hard to impress. I always had a running battle with guys like David Pie, Craig Crowley and Wayne Brittain. It was a bit of a love-hate relationship but that was just part of the game,” he said.

Coach of the Brisbane junior umpires from 1990-03, he finished his own career as a field umpire in 2000 before doing three seasons as a goal umpire. Always a staunch umpires man, he held many positions on the AFLQ Umpires Association Management Committee, including President in 1997, Vice-President in 1996 and Social Secretary for five years. After he’d put away the flags for the last time, he joined the Board of AFL Brisbane Juniors to continue his association with the game.

Forever grateful for the guidance of umpiring coaches Sandford, Neville Nash and Norm Scott, and the comradeship of Bird, Don Edwards, Wayne Waltisbuhl and Clem Kelly, among others, he treasures the memory of umpiring with 500-game umpiring great Tom McArthur, a member of the AFL Hall of Fame.

For a long time he had his own private dream – an umpires clubhouse. After a lot of work over a long time, with help from a lot of members, the AFLQUA Clubhouse opened at Coorparoo in 2000. Appropriately, he was the first chairman of the AFLQUA Club House Committee, and the number one Foundation Member. A proud personal moment along with more traditional awards ‘Umpire of the Year’ in 1990 and ‘Best Association Member’ in 1996.

Away from umpiring, Hopp managed an Amart All Sports store on the Sunshine Coast at 19, and after three years moved back to Brisbane to focus on his umpiring. Always in retail, he had a costume hire shop for six years and then established ‘Pets in Peace’, Brisbane’s oldest and most trusted funeral and cremation provider for pets. It became a big business, with 46 staff when he sold it to retire in 2020.

A Life Member of the Umpires’ Association, he also received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for services to Australian football, and in 2003 was selected as part of the AFLQUA Umpire Team of the Century. A massive honour. His field umpiring team in the Team of the Century included Tom McArthur, Kevin Symmons and Darren Morris – all icons of the game in Queensland.

Nowadays he spends his time with wife of 30 years Bev and their combined seven children and 29 grandchildren/great grandchildren, who range in age from six months to 34 years. He did it all as an umpire, but as the Umpires Association website says, he will always be best known as the practical joker who just loved umpiring and loved the Association.

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