In what will be a season of plenty of firsts in the AFL Women’s league, Bendigo goal umpire and BSSC student, John Varker, is on his way to living out his football dream.
The Year 12 student has been picked to officiate his first AFLW practice match.
It is expected to lead to more appearances at the elite level when the national women’s competition gets underway this weekend.
Varker’s elevation to the AFLW panel caps a remarkable rise in the umpiring ranks for the teenager from Goornong.
“I started umpiring in 2012 here in Bendigo – I did four years down here and then went across to Melbourne last year,” Varker said.
“Last year was my first year in the VFL development squad.
“I must have performed reasonably well as they have picked five of us to umpire the AFL Women’s league matches in Melbourne.
“I’m very keen, especially in the first year of the women’s league, but it’s unbelievable.”
Varker took up goal umpiring as a 12-year-old, following in the footsteps of his father Les Varker, who has officiated in leagues across central Victoria for the past 16-years.
His first official fixture was an Eaglehawk versus South Bendigo under 18-game, not without a few on-field incidents.
“There was a little bit of trouble by mentor Callan Evans, who was behind me, helped me out a bit,” he said.
“He now lives in Ballarat, but him and dad are the ones who got me in to umpiring and have helped me progress to where I am now.
Perhaps his most memorable game was the 2014 North Central league grand final, won by Wedderburn in extra-time against Charlton by one point.
Varker, who plays under-18 cricket with White Hills, hoped his elevation to the women’s league could be a stepping stone to an AFL career.
“A few people have told me I could get there eventually, but it’s a long path, it won’t be easy to get there,” he said.
“I do it because I love the game.”
He nominated long-serving Bendigo umpire and coach Dean Goodridge and Leigh Keen, from the AFL Umpires Association, as other influences to have contributed to his development.
While it’s behind the goals in Melbourne where Varker sees his future, he has not ruled out helping out back home in Bendigo if and when time permitted,
“I boundary umpired for one year and I was thinking that when I am not umpiring in Melbourne, if I have a week off, I will come down and boundary umpire in Bendigo,” he said.
“It keeps the fitness levels up.”