UPDATE: Friday, May 19, 2017
Eleni Glouftsis has been named as one of the umpires for Sunday’s match between Essendon and West Coast.
On May 21, the 25-year-old will become the first woman to officiate as a field umpire in a senior AFL match.
Eleni’s news went straight to the top with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sending congratulations.
“That is fantastic,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Tuesday. “It follows on from the success of the Adelaide Crows in the women’s AFL. Great work Eleni and all the best.”
Last year Siobhan Calafiore caught up with Eleni for The Weekly Review to reflect on her first AFL experience umpiring a Carlton and Essendon NAB Challenge match in 2016 – read the full article below.
Footy makes history on Sunday and the national cover of the mag celebrates Eleni Glouftsis’s first game as an AFL umpire. pic.twitter.com/vWjTOR2emI
— AFL Record (@AFLrecord) May 17, 2017
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: From March 10, 2016
Umpire Eleni Glouftsis reflects on her first AFL experience
In the past month, Eleni Glouftsis has dealt with television networks, radio stations, newspapers and websites – even the PM has wanted a photo – but the AFL’s first female field umpire won’t let it go to her head. In fact, she’s more than happy to just get on with her job.
The media hype is all due to a Carlton and Essendon NAB Challenge match a few Sundays ago, which was a fairly standard afternoon of footy with one exception. Eleni made history when she stepped out on Ikon Park to officiate the AFL match. Knowing the spotlight would be on her, she even had the courage to take the first bounce.
“I found out I would be umpiring the Monday before the match,” Eleni says. “It was just a really exciting feeling. It has been a pretty big pre-season and I’ve been working hard to continue developing my umpiring and my fitness, so I was really excited.
“The week leading up to it was a bit different with the media and things like that. But, overall, I just tried to treat it like any other match and prepare the same way – drinking lots of water, having a really good meal and making sure I got lots of rest before the game.”
Eleni received an overwhelming amount of praise from spectators, sportspeople and commentators alike for her efforts, something generally unheard of when it comes to umpiring.
Many have pointed out her natural ability to read the game, and some even argue she was the best umpire on the day. But despite the positive reviews, Eleni is realistic and even critical about her performance.
“It’s great to have a lot of positive feedback. It was a pretty exciting feeling going out on to the field,” she says.
“The match was probably similar to what I expected. I did a couple of intra-club matches in the previous week so I had a bit of an idea as to what level was required and the intensity. I think overall I did an okay job. There’s a lot I can work on, but it was a great experience overall.”
— Zan Rowe (@zanrowe) February 23, 2016
She may be only 23 – and she splits her time on the field with time in the classroom as a teacher at St Bernard’s College in Essendon – but Eleni has been umpiring for close to a decade.
“There was a notice in the daily bulletin when I was in year 9 at school and I always loved football, and being involved in football, so I thought I would take it up,” Eleni says. “It was a great little bit of pocket money, great for fitness and for friendships. My passion just grew from there.”
At first she had no intention to make it to AFL level, but she climbed the ranks anyway, becoming the first female field umpire in the SANFL a couple of years ago. Only then did AFL cross her mind.
“It became maybe not a possibility but a dream,” she says. “I was starting to progress in my field umpiring so I was thinking [AFL] could be a path that, if I really worked hard, I could start to work towards.”
Still, Eleni never imagined she would be the trailblazer.
“There were a lot of females around the place when I was coming up through the ranks, so I thought another female would get there before I did. Definitely.”
So what exactly does Eleni think of all this sudden media attention?
“I’m not really an outgoing person, so I don’t love having to talk to everyone,” she says with a laugh. “But any kind of media that is positive about umpiring is fantastic and I’m more than happy to be involved in that.”
As for the question on everybody’s lips, Eleni says gender has never played much of a role in her journey. She has always been treated as an equal – well, except for Sunday’s match when she received the loudest applause.
“Even with payment, the umpire gets paid the match payment whatever it is regardless of gender. I’ve never had any issues because of my gender.”
This year, as an AFL umpire rookie, Eleni will continue to officiate at VFL matches and sit on the bench at AFL games as an emergency umpire. But she isn’t hoping for an injury to get the call-up in the season proper.
“Hopefully, in the next couple of years, I can make it to the big stage as I continue to work and progress,” Eleni says.
As for the ultimate umpiring job, Eleni isn’t thinking about that just yet.
“A [Grand Final] is a bit of a dream. Most umpires would love to umpire the Grand Final, but if I can umpire one AFL [home and away] match I’ll be happy.”