Gary Burgess began his career as a netball umpire in 1998 and quickly became a well-recognised figure on the side-lines of netball courts up and down the country. A former PE teacher from Bedfordshire, Burgess left his career in teaching to pursue the role of Head of Officiating at England Netball. He volunteers as an international umpire in his spare time, and his dedication to the role has seen him progress to umpire at some of the biggest international netball matches in the world, including the 2015 Netball World Cup final. Earlier today it was announced that he will be part of our home World Cup in Liverpool as one of a team of 17 umpires who will be officiating at July’s Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 in Liverpool.
Burgess’ umpire career spans 20 years (10 as an international umpire) and includes umpiring at 10 consecutive Vitality Netball Superleague finals, two World Cup finals and two Commonwealth Games gold medal matches. We caught up with him to get the low down on the life of an international umpire, and ask what is next for someone who has seemingly done it all.
What are you most looking forward to at the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019?
“I remember seeing and hearing what a buzz there was around the 1995 Netball World Cup in Birmingham. To be involved in a home World Cup whilst netball, particularly in England, is experiencing such incredible momentum from the fans, participants in the sport and people around the world is so exciting and a real honour.”
“I’ve also made some of my best friends through international umpiring, so on a personal level, it is nice to get everyone back together, pick up where we left off from and grow those friendships even further. We are a family in many respects, with a shared passion for doing the best for the players and showcasing the sport at its most elite level.”
How did you get into netball umpiring?
“As a kid, my aunt and cousin were big into netball and my best friend’s mum was Gloria Keech, franchise director at Saracens Mavericks. We would always go with her to netball matches to spectate and run the tombola! Then whilst training to become a PE teacher at university, we were told to do more courses in female sport to make ourselves more employable. I enrolled on a netball umpiring course where Sheelagh Redpath was the tutor, and my passion for the role was nurtured so it grew from there.”
It would take eight and a half years of training before Burgess collected his international award, enabling him to umpire senior international matches.
What is it like umpiring at the Commonwealth Games?
“Absolutely fantastic, but exhausting hard work – anyone who thinks flying across the world to do this role is a jolly, is mistaken”, he laughs. “At the Commonwealth Games there is a potential to umpire eight games in a row which is hard going, both physically and mentally. Your adrenalin is pulsing from the matches you have umpired, and the buzz of the crowds, so you don’t find sleeping easy. It is the team of friends around you that makes it such a fantastic experience and keep you going.”
How do you stay match fit?
“I hate going to the gym as I find it really boring, but I run three times a week on the treadmill in my house doing fartleks to simulate the start and stopping of a netball game. The wear and tear of umpiring on your body is the hardest part. At World Cup events or similar length events, you can expect to umpire up to 10 games in 10 days with no rest, which is really hard going, so it is really important that I maintain a good level of stamina.”
How do you feel the game has changed throughout your umpiring career?
“Exponentially! The sport we have now compared to the sport we had when I first began umpiring is completely different. I taught netball in a school for a number of years, and the version of netball that I saw there is nothing like what we see nowadays, especially at an elite level. The physicality of the sport surprises people. The performances by the likes of England, Australia and so on are making the sport far more attractive to new spectators as the matches are so fast-paced and there isn’t that much between their scores. Netball has become a lot more exciting from a spectating point of view.”
You have hit all the key milestones, umpiring at World Cups, Commonwealth Games and Superleague finals, what keeps you motivated?
“A lot of people ask me this – people say aren’t you satisfied yet? Why do you want to continue? The truth is, it is a privilege to be involved in the sport at this level, and the feeling you get from playing a fantastic advantage is something that you can’t get anywhere else. I had considered retiring after the 2015 World Cup, but when Liverpool was awarded the bid for the 2019 World Cup, I really wanted to be part of it. I also remember how much fun we had in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games so I would perhaps still want to keep going for Birmingham 2022 being that, again, it is on home soil. So it keeps going and there are still a few personal goals that I want to achieve, but once I achieve those I will be satisfied that I have done my best.”