On Saturday, one of the most widely respected and much-admired umpires in NSW, Darren Goodger, marked the major milestone of 350 matches in the Sydney Cricket Association.
It was a journey that began in Grafton.
During the 1988/89 season, the now State Umpire Manager at Cricket NSW was playing lower Grade cricket in the Northern Rivers town. There was a choice to be made.
“I used to be out regularly within the first 15 minutes and we had to umpire our own game,” Goodger said with a grin.
“I decided I’d be better off umpiring than reading the Herald. I was 17 when I started.”
Two decades later the secondary school Mathematics teacher celebrated 350 matches across all five Grades and the Sydney Shires competition.
Goodger has been awarded the highest honour of the NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers' Association, the George Borwick Medal, a record seven times and was awarded Life Membership of the Association in 2009.
His 350 matches have included 261 in First Grade. Goodger has umpired five First Grade Limited-Overs Cup Grand Finals and five deciding matches in the overall Belvidere Cup.
During his time on the Cricket Australia Umpire Development Panel, he officiated three domestic T20 fixtures, six One-Day Domestic matches and one unforgettable First Class debut.
“It was November 2007 and it was at the SCG. New South Wales and Tasmania.
“(Life Member of Cricket NSW) John McMahon from Lismore was a real mentor for me and he was there for the game and the presentation of my First Class shirt which was made by Bob Horsell, who was a Chairman here at the time, but also a Cricket Australia board director.
“Now the other reason John was at the ground was that my only Shield match was the First Class debut of (the late) Phillip Hughes and I knew the Hughes family being from Macksville, and me from Grafton, I knew them well.
“The difference is I stopped there and he went on to play for Australia,” Goodger said with a laugh.
Goodger shared the milestone on Saturday with Griffith umpire Brenton Harrison at Coogee Oval for the NSW Premier Cricket fixture between Randwick Petersham and Penrith.
The match featured a dynamic 110 from 77 balls from International super star batsman David Warner for Randwick Petersham.
One of the most important mentors for Goodger during the early years was the late Roy Grace, who was an umpire with the Clarence River Cricket Association.
“Great mentor and he instilled in us the importance of knowing the laws and he drummed it into you and he used to run workshops out the back, in the back room of his place, for all the local Clarence River umpires, tremendous man.
“He just said that part of your basic toolkit is you have got to know the laws of the game.
“We had a good group in Grafton of about a dozen umpires and he led the way in the training.”
When Goodger was teaching at St Pius X College in Chatswood during 1992, umpiring their first XI matches on a Saturday in the Independent Schools Association, Goodger completed his qualifications with the NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers’ Association, then known as the NSW Cricket Umpires Association.
Goodger went back home to Grafton in 1995 where he taught for seven years and umpired in the local Clarence River Cricket Association earning a place on the Country Umpire Representative panel in 1998/99.
He then came back to Sydney, half way through the 2001/02 season, to see if he could reach the First Class level and started teaching at Christian Brothers Burwood.
“They were very supportive and understood the reason I was coming was I wanted to try and be a First Class umpire, so I started in Grade cricket,” said Goodger.
Goodger was overwhelmed and humbled by the messages of congratulations he received over the weekend.
“I don’t get social media at all, my brother and (fellow umpire) Sharad Patel, they just screen shot all of these things and send it to me.
“The umpire shouldn’t be the centre of attention, but it was great to see some names there and comments from people I hadn’t seen for a long time.
“The fact that they care and were interested and took the time was very touching.”
After 350 matches, the passion Goodger has for the game and umpiring endures.
“I love the interaction with good people every Saturday,” he said.
“I love Premier Cricket and I seriously respect all those volunteers out there in the Premier Cricket clubs who host us so well.
“In addition to that, if I can share something with umpires from my experience, particularly with routines and the mental side of the game, then that gives me great delight as well.”