Career

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Calling the shots


Eleni Glouftsis is a part-time teacher, part-time AFL field umpire and full-time force to be reckoned with. Here’s how her lifelong love of football led to her breaking down all the barriers to lead the way.

 

A teacher’s life was almost inevitable for Melbourne-based, Adelaide-born Eleni.

 

“It’s in the family – my dad was a secondary school English teacher, my mum was a primary school teacher librarian, my sister is a teacher and my brother works with disadvantaged youth. Every one of us is passionate about educating young people,” Eleni said.

 

“After high school I completed a double degree in education and health science. I loved that combination. I’ve always been really passionate about health and fitness and I loved PE at school. I find the human body fascinating.”

 

Eleni has spent the past seven years working for an all-boys high school, which is why she came to ACU to complete the Graduate Certificate in Religious Education.   

 

“I work at a Catholic school and it was recommended that all of the teachers do the course. We were really lucky to have classes held at my school and the lecturer came to us as so many were interested in it. It was challenging as I was working full-time, but our lecturer was great.

 

"She got us all thinking about religious education in a new way and she taught us how we can make it relevant to our students’ lives today.”

 

An early start

“I grew up watching lots of footy ­– my dad played when he was younger and my brother played too,” Eleni recalled. “I just loved sport and being active and my parents were always so supportive of anything and everything I wanted to do. Growing up I played football, but also netball, cricket, tennis, volleyball and everything else under the sun.

 

“I feel so fortunate I had opportunities to try new things. Now when I think about it, I realise that as a 12-year-old going out to umpire, it’s a crazy thing to let your daughter do, so I’m really thankful my parents let me have a go.

 

“I got into it because I just loved the sport and played myself in both primary and high school. But when I was growing up in South Australia, there wasn’t a pathway to playing it professionally.

 

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“When I first heard about umpiring, I thought I love the game, so why not? But when I first joined I never thought I’d be where I am now. I’m so thankful the people in my junior club were incredibly supportive and caring. They gave me the tools to overcome any obstacles and this helped me fall in love with umpiring.”

 

First on the field

 

Eleni is incredibly humble about her barrier breaking achievement as the AFL’s first – and only ­­–  female field umpire and acknowledges she has come a long way.

 

“When I reflect on being the first and only woman on the field, I can see what a unique journey I’ve had. I’ve never been a boundary or goal umpire either – it was always the field for me. I liked making the decisions.”

 

In spite of the gender imbalance, Eleni said she’s never been scared of being the only woman calling the shots.

 

“When I first started in the junior leagues, the more I was around, the more it became the norm. At the start there was a bit of, ‘Oh, it’s the girl umpire’ and that was an obstacle I had to get past. But as I was more present and seen more, I just became like any other umpire.

 

“Now the players are used to seeing me and they trust me, especially at the elite professional level. The game is so fast and there’s no time to worry as it all moves so quickly.

 

“I think umpiring is unique and challenging in lots of ways for everyone, no matter your gender. It’s really about having the right support around you from your family and coaches. I’m so thankful my family come and watch me every week and help me through the tough times. It’s worth it every day.”

 

Eleni has now become a familiar face on TV and this hasn’t escaped the attention of her pupils.

 

“The students I teach see me umpiring on TV and they love it and think it’s hilarious! But after the weekend game, they’ll come and ask me questions and it’s a great opportunity to build relationships with them. And I obviously love talking about football, so I’m never bothered. At my school I help out with a bit of coaching and I’m happy to be involved in football in any way I can.”

 

A woman’s world

 

While Eleni is the only woman on the field in the AFL, she says there’s a few umpiring for the AFLW (the women’s league).

 

“As the AFLW continues to expand, we’re seeing more and more females involved in umpiring. I’m hoping this continues to grow. At the moment we have two female goal umpires but there are lots of women coming through. Hopefully they’ll make it to the top level soon too."

 

“I’ve started umpiring for the AFLW myself for the past two years and it’s been fantastic. I love the competition and watching the elite women playing is awesome. It’s been incredible to see how it’s evolved and what it’s become. It’s great for young girls to see.

 

“I think if the AFLW existed when I was playing myself, maybe I would have gone for it as I’ve always loved team sports. But back then there weren’t leagues to play in or role models to look up to. So, who knows? But I love umpiring and I was so fortunate to find this pathway and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

 

The run around

 

Eleni said umpiring at an elite level is a full-time commitment. As a health and fitness junkie, this suits her just fine.

 

“You have to be able to keep up, so I do lots of running training. I live in Melbourne and it was really hard during the lockdowns, but I had to keep going. We have to be fit to last the whole game.

 

“As a field umpire, I’m running probably 14 to 18kms per game and so much of that is sprinting. So it’s not just about doing a little training session here and there – umpiring is a lifestyle, just like the players.

 

 

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“We have worn GPSs for our coaches to track our movements and it’s been really interesting to look at our data and see how far we’ve gone in a game.”

 

Eleni’s fiancé Dillon is not only her biggest supporter, but as a fellow umpire he knows what it takes to be the best.

 

“Dillon was a boundary umpire, but unfortunately he dropped out in 2019 because of injuries. But he’s a fantastic supporter of mine. We met as umpires back in 2009 and share an understanding of what umpiring really is and what it takes. It’s not just a weekend thing for us, it’s everyday life and it takes commitment.

 

In a fitting move, Dillon proposed to Eleni on the field at the MCG.

 

“It was the first (and only!) match we have ever umpired together, which was already such a thrill and so unique and special to us.

 

"And most of our family were in Melbourne to watch the game when he got down on one knee. It was crazy.”

Standing out

Off the field, Eleni has been bestowed with prestigious awards and well-deserved attention for her achievements, including being bestowed with a Medal of the Order (OAM) on Australia Day, awarded to Australians for service deemed particularly worthy of recognition.

 

“When things like this happen, it’s a great chance to reflect. I have so much support around me and it takes a team of people. But I don’t know who to thank for nominating me! It’s a shame it’s confidential as I’d like to say thank you. I was so flattered someone thought I was worthy of the award.”

 

Eleni was also the Young Australian of the Year for South Australia in 2019 for her services to Australian football.

 

“Unfortunately, like the OAM, I don’t know who to thank for putting my name forward. I don’t know how the nomination even came about.

 

"I’m just so grateful that I have people who believe in me and think I deserve an accolade like that.”

 

Taking a chance

 

When she’s not calling the shots on the pitch or in the classroom, Eleni is busy working in an umpiring development role for the AFL, concentrating on getting more young women involved.

 

“I’m trying to rejuvenate our school umpire program and I’m investigating the ways we can increase female numbers through recruitment and retainment,” she said. "I want to help young girls see umpiring is a fantastic path to go down.”

 

The advice Eleni has for anyone wanting a career like hers is you have to be willing to put yourself out there.

 

“You have to be ok with taking risks – you’ll never know unless you try it.

 

"I never ever thought I’d be where I am today with my umpiring, but I took that first risk when I was just 12. Even if I’d never gone past umpiring at the junior level, I’d still have loved it. I think the only limits are the ones you set for yourself.

 

“It’s really about having the right people around you too – it makes all the difference.

 

"I don’t get treated differently as a woman on the field as we all share the same passion, which is our love of football.

 

“At the end of the day, when I walk out onto the field I’m there to do my best, and that’s all I can do.”

 

If you’re interested in furthering your career opportunities like Eleni, learn more about ACU’s postgraduate education courses.

Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2022 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G