I’ve been to watch Bradford (Park Avenue) a handful of times now and one thing that has categorised each game I’ve been to is loud vocal abuse of the officials, mainly (but not exclusively) by the die-hard BPA fans who stand at the far side of the Horsfall near the touchline, within earshot of the ref and lino. The fans who sit in the main stand are also pretty vociferous in their critiques of refereeing decisions. Sometimes it’s amusing, but more often it makes you cringe.
These officials are usually youngsters barely out of their teens or ordinary blokes and lasses doing it out of their love for the game – people giving up their time voluntarily or for little financial gain.
As with all football from internationals to grassroots level, if there are no officials then there’s no game.
Ray Winstone did a hard-hitting and effective video campaign for the FA’s Respect initiative (view it on YouTube here), and the FA has produced the Respect Guide for Leagues (downloadable as a PDF, with other guides, from www.thefa.com/leagues/respect/newsandfeatures/2009/respectguidessep09).
In the introduction to the guide, Brian Barwick states:
“We must improve standards of behaviour – on and off the field.
“The message came through loud and clear in the major survey The FA undertook before publishing its National Game Strategy earlier this year – ‘Your Game, Your Say, Our Goal’.
“The research involved 37,000 football participants, including all major stakeholders, in what has been the most fundamental review to date of the state of grassroots football in England.
“Behaviour was – and is – the biggest concern, both abuse and intimidation towards referees, and unacceptable behaviour by over-competitive parents towards young players. That’s in addition to aggressive coaches and spectators on the sidelines. For example, parental behaviour is one of the main reasons why young players drop out of the game. Furthermore, as poor behaviour by coaches, parents and players towards referees means that thousands of officials are dropping out each season. Players and teams have told us they want a qualified referee for every game – well, let’s look after them and that may just happen.
“Respect is aimed at helping us all to work together to change the negative attitudes and abusive behaviour on the sidelines and on the pitch. It’s a long-term commitment, but if we all play our part, together we can really make a difference.
“And it’s not just about football at your level. It’s about football at every level, which is why we’re glad to be working in partnership with the Premier League, Football League, Professional Game Match Officials, Professional Footballers’ Association and League Managers’ Association to improve behaviour in the professional game too.”
The FA site also gives us the referee recruitment and retention figures for the 2010-11 season:
“Referee recruitment and retention
- The total number of referees is 28405 an increase of 5 per cent from 2010.
- There are 6,000 more referees than in 2008 Quantity and quality – Accompanied by Referee Development Officers, Referee mentoring, Referee academies, Improved IT support.
- The Referee’s experience – Respect marks were collected for 24,000 games from 4,500 referees.
- Average marks was 4 out of 5.
- Overall most match officials have an enjoyable experience of officiating and are treated with respect by most participants.
“On field discipline
- Overall across the FL and [EPL] dissent has fallen by 16 per cent since 2008/09.
- Since 2008/09 Dissent has declined across the 15 senior leagues and divisions by 16 per cent.
- The number of misconduct charges such as ‘Surrounding a match official’ or Technical area offences also fell in comparison to 2010/11.
“Assaults on referees
Although there has been a decline in the most serious cases of assault by 15 per cent the number of incidences of improper conduct towards Referees has risen by 25 per cent. Some of this will reflect the increased number of match officials and reports being submitted. The key message remains however that it is never acceptable to confront a referee in any way.”
There have been several high-profile incidents recently.
Blackpool boss Paul Ince has vowed to improve his own touchline discipline after serving his recent five-match stadium ban for assaulting an official.
Ince received the five-match stadium ban after shouting ‘I’ll knock you fucking out you cunt’ at fourth official Mark Pottage and shoving him violently during a match at Bournemouth. Ince was initially sent to the stands after throwing a water bottle that struck a female spectator, before his incredible reaction to the fourth official after the final whistle.
Ince seemed keener on thanking Sky Sports for allowing him to watch his side’s matches at their Wilmslow studio near Manchester during the time he was banned than apologising to the official concerned. Ince told Sky Sports News:
“This is teaching me to keep my mouth shut.
“It has been weird, it has been strange, but I’d like to thank the Sky team for making it possible for me to watch the five matches here in the studio.
“Without you guys it would have been even worse for me. It’s hard when you can’t get the messages you want to your players, it’s hard when you aren’t on the line.
“But you have to learn from your mistakes and move on. I’m looking forward to being on the touchline against Sheffield Wednesday, and it’s nice after Ipswich last time, where we lost, to nick a point.”
This is five years into the Respect campaign.
The FA has unleashed it’s latest weapon in the initiative – an ED-209-style robot, programmed for on-pitch pacification and set to be deployed at football pitches across the country.
The BBC Sport website states that:
“This light-hearted approach aims to encourage people to take matters into their own hands when they encounter bad behaviour that goes against the spirit of the game.”
We shall see. You have 20 seconds to comply.
The Ask a Soccer Referee blog covers Law 5 of the Refereeing code:
How much abuse must I and my assistant referees (and the players) take?
According to Law 5, the referee “takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.” By no stretch of the imagination do most, and certainly not many, coaches or other team officials behave irresponsibly. However there are enough of them that referees need to have a plan of action.”
“Here are some examples of irresponsible behavior, directed by coaches or other team officials at referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, players of the opposing or their own team, and opposing coaches:
1. Screaming at or verbally or physically abusing the officials or any players or other participants for any reason
2. Interfering with the game in any way, such as:
* presuming to give the officials instructions on how to make or signal their calls
* insisting that an opposing player be cautioned or sent off
* throwing objects in protest
* kicking chairs
* striking advertising boards
* persistently and flagrantly protesting decisions by an official * interfering with the performance of assistant referee or fourth official duties * refusing to return to the technical area * entering the field of play without the permission of the referee * failing to deal with team spectators who loudly and persistently harass or insult the referee team
“There is a widespread trend within the nation and the [football] community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. The referee is certainly empowered to ensure responsible [behaviour] by the team official in that regard. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee. The first action to consider is a quiet word with the coach or other team official to let him or her know that the [behaviour] will not be allowed to continue.
If that fails, get the police involved. One of my recent previous posts was on an incident at an Under-13s game in the suburb of Norwich where I used to live.
“Police were called as a heated altercation between two junior football team managers threatened to spill over. Officers went to the Fitzmaurice Pavilion in Thorpe St Andrew, where Thorpe Rovers U13s were taking on Sprowston U13s on Sunday afternoon, after reports that a man had been assaulted, but when they arrived they found that neither man involved, described by police as being “a little hot under the collar”, was willing to make a formal complaint.
“Parents contacted the Eastern Daily Press to voice their concern at the example being set to youngsters watching and playing in the match who witnessed the run-in.
“A spokesman for Norfolk FA confirmed the incident was being investigated. He said:
“We have been made aware of the alleged incident and will be investigating the matter in line with FA regulations.
“While we cannot comment further on ongoing investigations, we can reiterate that improving standards of behaviour across all levels of the game is a key feature of both the FA’s and Norfolk FA’s continuing work.”
No doubt incidents like this will continue to make the headlines, and – whilst they are amusing on one level – how long will it be before an official gets seriously hurt in an assault or takes matters into their own hands?
Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey believes that the pressure on top-flight officials could lead to one of them committing suicide.
Halsey has published a book, authored with writer and journalist Ian Ridley, entitled Added Time: Surviving Cancer, Death Threats and the Premier League, which chronicles the pressures exerted on a modern official from the moment they leave their home or hotel in the morning, through confrontations with managers and players on the field of play and in tunnels and dressing rooms, to the journey home to watch their mistakes beamed into the living rooms of millions of fans.
”I also believe that if we do not do something to help referees with mental health and stress issues, then we could see a suicide.”
Nobody wants that. So, next you feel like calling the referee a wanker, or making insulting comments about the female lino, think on.
A recent news story on the BBC News website (“FA to target adult misconduct at youth level football“) reveals how nearly 4,000 misconduct offences have been committed by adults at youth level football.
The article says:
“BBC 5live Investigates asked the FA to collate figures for misconduct offences that have occurred at youth football matches at grassroots level. This is the first time the FA has quantified the scale of the problem.
“The FA provided figures from all 50 county associations across England.
“The reports mainly came from match officials who had witnessed improper behaviour, such as offensive remarks directed at referees and physical fights between parents or between opposing club managers.
“They relate to incidents recorded last season (2012-13) and so far this season (up to November 2013).
“In total, there were 3,731 cases of misconduct involving adults at under-18 matches.
“Of those, 1,057 involved incidents where clubs were charged with failing to control spectators or players – with the vast majority related to trouble caused by spectators.”
- FA to target adult misconduct at youth level football (bbc.co.uk)
- More than half of Sunday league football matches hit by referees’ strike (coventrytelegraph.net)
- Refereeing – A highlight of living in the UK (cam2camblog.wordpress.com)
- Gay referee claims he was expelled from matches after speaking out about homophobic taunts during amateur clash (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- Row over FA Trophy tie abandonment (bbc.co.uk)
- The man in the middle (discountfootballkits.com)
- Abuse it and lose it : amateur sport in a consumer society (andrewpearce16.wordpress.com)
- Nuneaton and Bedworth clubs ‘read the riot act’ following abandonment of another game (coventrytelegraph.net)
- Referees poor decision making (l00111178.wordpress.com)
- Football match-fixing investigation: ‘The price for a referee is £20,000’ (telegraph.co.uk)