Hockey's Mr Everything
IN A tucked-away corner of Grafton hockey’s canteen, Les Falla stands above the old kitchen stove.
It’s a scene he has come across many times before.
“There is a problem with the oil with the chip cooker,” he laughs.
“I broke it so I can’t complain, but I have to fix it.”
In his 26 years as “all-round dog’s body” of the Grafton Hockey Association (GHA), straight-shooting Falla is used to being the last man standing when it comes to work needing to be done.
After moving from Fine Flower in 1984 and starting out as a general helper, Falla has since become GHA’s “Mr Everything”.
His official title is men’s umpire co-ordinator, but to anyone in local hockey he is much more.
He is the man who volunteers a week’s worth of work for the smile it puts on young faces. He is the backbone of Grafton hockey.
National Volunteers Week runs May 10-16, meaning Falla finally earns the recognition usually reserved for the last-minute goalscorer or grand final hero.
“I do it because I love the sport,” says Falla, who also enjoys his shifts behind the bar on game days.
“I just wanted to give back what I can – I think I have given more than I have taken out of it. And the kids keep me young. But there’s always something to do.”
Falla, 61, last week officiated the under-15 girls’ State Titles in Taree, just days after the over-50 Veteran’s event, and will back up for the boys’ under-15 competition starting Friday.
But he claims to have taken a back seat in recent times, and thoughts of one day handing the volunteering responsibilities to others are growing louder.
Not that he claims any credit for his toil.
“If you want to you could call it a full-time job, but if there wasn’t other people coming in it wouldn’t get done,” he says.
“I’m working towards it (retirement) now because I dropped out of the umpire side of it.
“There’s no way in the world I’m going to do this (volunteer) for another 15 years.”
A stint in the army, running the ferry at Ulmarra and a heart attack in 1979 have all been features of a colourful life.
Since then Falla has received his state B-grade umpiring accreditation as well as Level One coach and technical officer certificates.
And it all started with the choice to get involved.
“The kids were all 10-13 (when we moved to Grafton) and the missus said ‘are you going to play sport?’,” Falla laughs.
“They (the kids) got in to hockey and it just started from there.”
It was only three years ago – after a succession of Achilles injuries – that Falla, “never a good player”, finally lay down his hockey stick.
Off the field, the increasing use of abuse levelled at umpires in the sport has seen volunteering numbers dwindle in recent years.
This has made Falla’s job as umpiring co-ordinator more difficult, but it just means he gains more satisfaction from each graduate.
“I won’t say I’m the oldest bloke around Grafton hockey, but I have been around for a long time,” laughs Falla, who was “nearly in tears” when he was handed life membership to Grafton’s junior boys’ association earlier this decade.
“I wouldn’t take full credit for anyone though, because it’s a combination of all the coaches.
“But I think I have got a lot of respect from other people – I am content with what I have got.”
Just a short list of goals elude the one-time Carol Morris Trophy winner, awarded to the State’s umpire of the year.
Wish 1: He would like the upstairs bar at Grafton’s fields completed so that “even though I don’t drink I want my corner in the bar”.
Wish 2: To have more volunteers to help out the “two or three” who spend so much time fixing that old kitchen stove.
Falla’s favourite fables
• I was out umpiring an A-grade game at the over-50s the other week and eight of my young umpires watched. At the end they said to me “I didn’t know you could move like that”. I told them “I am old but I can still move around”.
• I don’t like people calling me Mr Falla. Some of the young guys do and I say “Mr Falla was the bloke who passed away when I was 13”. Even ladies aged 35 and 40 still call me Mr Falla.
• A few years ago in Orange I was managing a tournament. One of the Sydney parents came up to me and said “You’re not going to put those two umpires in the final are you?”. I said “It’s my call and they are doing the best job”. After the game he said to me “you picked the best guys” and I said “I was always going to”.
• I had one bloke on the weekend ask me if I could help him umpire. He had a bet that he couldn’t umpire a game. He was about 40 and I said “sure”. I don’t care how old they are – just come and see me, I’ll talk to you and do anything to help.