Demolition derbies a thing of the past
Demolition derbies a thing of the past

Derby hostilities have fallen dramatically in recent years with the desperation to win replacing violence, according to AFL umpire Luke Farmer.

Farmer will officiate in his fourth derby tomorrow but he also umpired both pre-season clashes this year. Having also worked as the emergency umpire early in his career, the veteran of 123 AFL games, said there had been a clear change in the way players approached derbies.

"The lead-up to the game is still as high as it's always been with the media and public focus, but on match day it is a normal game now," Farmer said.

"I believe that each player for Fremantle and each player for West Coast really want to beat their cross-town rivals and be the No.1 team in Western Australia.

"You're still on alert for any head-high tackle because of the potential for players to fly the flag, but the players are more interested in winning the game."

Farmer umpired last week's Anzac Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood at the MCG in front of over 90,000 people.

That match attracted attention because of the number of holding free kicks paid off the ball in what appeared to be a crackdown on tagging tactics.

But Farmer said the umpires weren't told to make life difficult for the taggers.

"Every year there's been the public hysteria that taggers are a blight on the game," Farmer said.

"But it has clearly been shown that there's a real art to being a tagger and doing the job well. Last week we did pay some free kicks against players for blocking and holding at the contests, but not just against guys who people would be calling taggers.

"Our job is just to make it so everyone can go for the ball."

This weekend is the AFL's Community Umpire round and the league hopes an added focus on the whistle-blowers will increase participation numbers.

There are 12,000 umpires nationwide to fill 20,000 positions.

Farmer joined the WAFL in 1997 and umpired three grand finals before making his AFL debut in 2007.

His father Clinton had previously worked as an assistant coach in the WAFL and he saw umpiring as another avenue to be part of the game while getting paid as a teenager. The pathway to the AFL has changed under new coach Hayden Kennedy and director Wayne Campbell.

Five-times WAFL grand final umpire Stuart Parry will be the emergency for the derby after being identified from the national talent pool in recent weeks.

"It's great for Stu. It's come to him a bit later in his career, but it shows that the pathway is always open to anybody and at any age," Farmer said.

"You can be a former player like Jordan Bannister, we've got women umpiring and that's fantastic. There's different nationalities coming through the ranks too and if you're good enough you'll get the chance."

·Justin Orr has retired after 176 matches as a WAFL umpire.

The West Australian

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