By sports editor Russell Bennett
The remainder of the West Gippsland Cricket Association season has been thrown into chaos in the aftermath of last night’s tribunal hearings involving two Kooweerup players.
Renowned AFL player advocate Iain Findlay represented Demon pair Chris Bright (Premier) and Ayden Mills (Sub-District) in their respective tribunal cases, which resulted in Bright getting a two-match suspended sentence following his obscene language report, and Mills being suspended for the rest of this season.
Bright is free to play this weekend against Tooradin in a highly-anticipated semi-final.
But the West Gippsland Umpires Association has reacted bitterly to the hearings – and the tribunal itself – slamming the process for not supporting the umpires.
“None of us are happy,” WGCA Umpires Association president Dave Webster told Star News.
“Since I’ve been president, the (WGCA) board has been pushing us to clean up the association and stamp out issues of player behaviour. We do that, go to the tribunal, and players don’t miss games at all.
“It’s disappointing that we go to the tribunal and constantly get let down.
“It’s really disappointing that we do the hard yards, and it’s ripped from underneath us.
“We all get along really well with the players – and this player in particular (Bright) – but the rules are there. You have to put the personalities aside and enforce the rules of the game. That’s our job and what we get paid to do.”
In the wake of Wednesday night’s tribunal proceedings, WGCA chairman Bob Taylor told Star News: “The umpires felt intimidated – like they were the ones on trial.
“The umpires are that disgusted that they’re not getting the support they should from the tribunal.
“The board has to sit down now and talk with the umpires. I’m going to make sure we change things to make sure we do back the umpires up – because it’s just so wrong.”
While Kooweerup, and specifically Bright, is the club and player involved in this instance, Star News understands it’s the system that the umpires feel the most aggrieved by.
As a consequence, the WGCA Umpires Association has already seen multiple umpires walk away from the competition over the past 24 hours.
The group is already worryingly short of numbers – prior to last night three senior WGCA grades were going to miss out on official umpires for their games this weekend, and now it seems five grades will have to go without.
Clearly, this puts a real cloud over this weekend’s semi finals, and next weekend’s grand finals. Some have even suggested that the umpires could walk away altogether.
An email from WGCA secretary Shane Dalton sent to all clubs since the tribunal hearings states: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, with the sudden resignation of several umpires and support staff, we ask for your patience and we will do our best to ensure cricket continues for the remainder of the season.”
WGCA legend and Kooweerup Cricket Club president Matt Davey also spoke to Star News in the wake of the explosive developments.
“Just because it goes to the tribunal, it doesn’t mean a player has to get suspended,” he said.
“For it to be a Level 2 offence (four weeks) for what ‘Wombat’ (Bright) supposedly said, we thought it was just way too much.
“In that game, there were probably five other players who swore at the top of their voice and got nothing.
To see an Upper Beaconsfield player turn up at the proceedings and give evidence for the umpires when he knew what was going on, on the sidelines, was really disappointing to us.
“We fully support the umpires in what they do, and have really good relationships with them – particularly Michael Meeng – but we’ve always supported our players and continue to do so.”
Davey also spoke about Ayden Mills’ suspension.
“I just feel that he wasn’t going to get off, no matter what happened at the tribunal,” he said.
“He just didn’t get a chance.”