SPONTENAITY is a key ingredient in sporting success.

Ten years ago, in a fortuitous set of circumstances, just one question changed the football pathway of Ashleigh Lovas for good.

When Lovas was playing for Nambrok-Newry Junior Football Club, she saw a female field umpire and asked, ‘How do I get into umpiring?’

That instance was the launching pad of her calling as an umpire.

Ten years later, Lovas is a goal umpire coach and the Sale Umpires Association’s Women and Girls Liaison.

In Round 4 of the North Gippsland Football-Netball League this year, Lovas’ eagle eyes were fixed on the goals as she umpired her 550th game.

The match between Churchill and Traralgon Tyers United, who emerged the ultimate victors, was a goal umpire’s dream. A total of 171 points were kicked between the two sides, comprising 24 goals and 27 points at Gaskin Park.

Lovas said goal umpires have the “best view in the house”.

After starting on the boundary, where most budding umpires begin their journeys, Lovas assumed her position between the big sticks, citing that less impact on an ailing ankle was part of that decision.

Patience, discipline, and the confidence to back yourself are critical attributes of goal umpires, Lovas said.

“I like that you have to be in focus mode all the time, even if it’s up the other end of the ground,” she said.

“You’ve got to be able to maintain focus and endurance because it’s long games of just kind of standing in one spot (over) a couple of hours or six hours, depending (on) how many games you do.”

Since Lovas began her umpiring career, the landscape of sports officiating has changed in the AFL. With the advent of AFLW, women have become more prominent figures as players and officials. In 2017, Eleni Glouftsis became the first female field umpire to officiate the AFL men’s home-and-away season.

Lovas said opportunities in umpiring for women and girls have changed for the better.

“When I started there were maybe six girls that actually umpired,” she said.

Over time, numbers would fluctuate and fall off if environments were not supportive. However, Lovas said that had changed in recent years.

“It’s awesome being supported with uniforms that actually fit female bodies and having the opportunities to have club rooms that are appropriate for females because 10 years ago I used to go into changerooms and it (would) be just appropriate for the blokes,” she said.

“Where (now) they’re making sure it is female-friendly and that they’ve got the accommodation to support and encourage females to be comfortable there to umpire.”

A big sticking point has been uniforms.

“Up until maybe two-three years ago, we were stuck with men’s size and men’s size only; they’re quite baggy, they’re quite oversized. We’re now having a few challenges but encouraging the females to reach out to get their female-fitted uniforms if they want to, and they can still have the option for males,” Lovas said.

Lovas is the point of contact for young kids and their parents to address any concerns as a liaison officer for girls and boys at the Sale Umpires Association.

This year, the AFL established a panel of female liaisons from each association across Australia, including 24 female representatives. Their role is to support and advocate for umpires, offering a comfortable and approachable resource for raising issues, seeking help, and ensuring they feel supported within the association.

Ashleigh Lovas (left) is an umpire coach and liaison within the Sale Umpires Association, and recently celebrated her 550th game with the SUA. Photo: Contributed

Before the 550-game milestone, Lovas was surprised by a video from AFL goal umpire Chelsea Roffey. Roffey recently celebrated her 300th game as a goal umpire, and the supportive message was a great moment for Lovas.

She said the video was met with a lot of “positive emotions”.

“Surprise, shocked, overwhelming, happy. It was quite awesome getting a message from Chelsea, who just did her 300th game in AFL,” Lovas said.

She advises aspiring umpires to “just give it a go”.

“I was playing footy with boys when I joined up and started boundary (umpiring). I was a lot fitter, and I could keep up with the boys and I gained confidence within myself to be a part of the team,” she said.

She added that umpiring also looks good on a resume, and while that’s an added bonus, she said the social aspect of umpiring is great as well.