Refereeing abuse: Your experiences & what you want to see happening

Refereeing abuse: Your experiences & what you want to see happening

There are about 28,000 referees in England

The strike by Merseyside Youth Football League in protest at referee abuse – and statistics showing 380 bans have been given for attacks on grassroots officials at all ages – has ignited another fierce discussion about the issue.

Both on BBC Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website, thousands of people have been sharing their experiences and calling for change.

BBC Sport asked for thoughts on the story and got more than 1,100 comments, as well as a further 1,000 submissions.

Here are some of those thoughts, experiences and suggestions for change:

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Why I quit refereeing

Rev Dominic Stockford: My worst moment was when a player I had sent off during the game appeared in the referee’s changing room after the game. He started ranting and if a non-playing team member hadn’t physically dragged him away he would have assaulted me. I was very shaken, slammed the door, and stayed there locked in for over an hour, hoping he would leave. I’ve since stopped reffing.

Ted Freeman: I refereed at grassroots level for 10 years but quit because of abuse and an attack on me. I could have carried on for another 10 years, but no thank you.

Alex Shaw: I used to referee for a local u12s league. I quit after I got spat at, punched and had my car keyed by parents, all in the same month.

Simon: A player under a false name headbutted an opponent then told me if I dared send him off I was next. Match abandoned, I quit the next day.

Paul Jenkins: I have three sons. Two qualified at young ages. They didn’t carry on for long. Less than a season. All down to parents’ behaviour.

Ken Spedding: I called time/had enough after 30 years of reffing. I abandoned an under-15s game due to abuse from the coach and got no support from the FA. It’s getting worse.

Richard Smith: I hung up my referee’s kit in 2018 having qualified (with merit) through the Surrey FA in 2010. It just became too toxic, zero respect.

Tom: I got assaulted refereeing an adults game of football after I had sent off a player for violent conduct. I was in my early 20s. I never reffed again.

Graham Barley: I stopped refereeing four years ago because the abuse was intolerable and the support from the FA virtually non-existent. Things have to change.

Mike Tyas: Referring is such a worthwhile and fulfilling role. I did it for 23 years and loved 95% of it but the abuse finally took its toll and I quit.

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Why I continue refereeing

Sam Midwood: After reffing for 10 years, I’ve had a real insight into how bad the abuse can be, but this has made me more determined to stamp it out.

David: I think behaviour in football has improved massively over my 25-year involvement. Reporting and sanctioning are significantly better.

Myles Harrison: Having been a ref for some 20 years I still enjoy going out every weekend and doing games. It does help that players know you.

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Personal experiences of matchdays and refereeing

Andy Stringer: Would the morons who are abusing referees like to take the whistle and do it themselves? NO. Cowards picking on one person is how I see it.

Trevor Mitchell: I am a former referee and assist a youth league mentoring young referees that have been abused in some shape or form. I have been called upon twice so far this season.

Paul Murray: I am stunned that anyone wants to referee anymore. I have seen refs shaking after the threats and intimidation. Managers and parents are the worst. Disgraceful!

Michael Winsor: I refereed at both junior and adult level. I personally didn’t have a lot of problems with junior age groups but at adult level there was no respect for the referees, who were, in a lot of cases, treated with contempt. The players need to realise that basically no ref, no game.

Steve Whitewick: I’m a joint manager of a Sunday morning men’s team. We instilled a policy of deep respect for all referees, whether we agree with decisions against us or not. The current shortage of referees is not what we want. It has been agreed that any misdemeanours against any referee will be dealt with by a club fine and suspension from the team for two weeks. It hasn’t happened yet. We have come up against teams whose discipline has been less than desired and referees are now refusing to officiate their games in future, which affects our team if we are due to play them.

Robin Sidebottom: I am a grassroots referee. The leagues don’t care about us, you get no follow up and you never find out what happened to the perpetrators.

Peter Collins: As a grassroots referee, I very nearly quit last year after being attacked. Retention is an issue and won’t change until culture changes.

Andrew Laver: I have been a referee since I was 14, just over 30 years ago, my lad is now 17 and is a referee. The abuse has got worse. It is the pro game’s fault.

Mike O’Bree: My experience as a referee is the FA fine clubs and ban players sine die [indefinitely], but they play again within five years.

Richard: It’s been like it for years. Until somebody gets killed nothing will happen. I have been refereeing for 25 years. There is so little support out there.

Stephen Smith: I am a grassroots referee. I have been spat at, spat on, verbally and physically assaulted. Drastic action is needed.

Carl: Toxic behaviour/abuse from opposition players and parents has resulted in two more parent volunteers resigning from officiating my team.

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It’s not just a football problem…

John Turner: I have umpired at many school cricket matches and have had to send off a player for abusive behaviour, so the problem is not only football.

Richard Wiggs: I am a qualified cricket umpire – I have given the game up due to breaking up four fights on a cricket pitch last season. Grown men as well.

Mike Fletcher: I’m a rugby referee and I’ve been lucky enough never to have experienced this kind of violence. However, what little backchat and abuse I’ve received over the years comes invariably from parents and coaches – in fact the only red card I’ve ever given was to a coach.

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What can be done?

Paul Fieldsend: I saw refereeing as a way to give something back to the game I love when I hung up my boots. I am still registered under the Welsh FA, but I only ref now to help out my local club in Louth, Lincolnshire. Why? Because it’s not worth the hassle. If the referees went on strike, including the top-level officials, it would highlight that without these officials there is no football.

Craig Aitken: Having played a lot of football, I would say that a toxic culture of disrespect runs through football at all ages. Referees are human and make mistakes, players make loads of mistakes, but TV only ever focuses on referee mistakes and essentially condones abuse. It is about time teams were deducted points.

Anthony Hancock: It’s quiet simple, if you abuse a referee you are substituted immediately. It’s down to grassroots football managers to explain this before every kick-off and enforce it.

Akif Waseem: I run an under-15s team. If they speak out of turn to the referee, they are subbed off. The standard needs to be set by managers, as we are role models.

Wayne Brennan: I love the idea of the silent weekend and feel this should be brought in permanently for junior football. A a club chairman, I consistently witness unacceptable behaviour on the sidelines.

David Nock: Respect is missing in football. Look at rugby and learn from it. Any backchat on the field is given a 10-metre move penalty. A second offence and a player is sent off for a 10-minute sin-bin. Players 99% of the time just walk off – no complaints.

Steve Grimsley: Ex-referees should be used to help and chaperone young refs.

Paul Turpin: Our club is encouraging our youth players to qualify as referees, to help them support and respect referees when they play.

Gary Sheppard: Ban adults from junior football. Each club provides a welfare officer and that is it. Give refs body cams and award teams bonus points for good behaviour.

Stephen Field: Nothing will change unless the high-profile professional referees back walkouts and leave Premier League matches without officials.

David Waterfield: The clubs have to be banned. We need collective responsibility from coaches, players and parents. Remove FA accreditation for offending clubs and coaches.

Charlie Monck: If you assault an official, you are banned for life. Simple. Officials – and players – must be protected from thugs.

David: Introduce a silent-shopper type model for an assessment of spectators and team behaviour. They should then inform team bans based on abuse.

Ross Hamilton: As an experienced grassroots ref we must encourage younger refs to be brave and abandon matches at an early stage to get the message across.

Stuart Plummer: The problem in grassroots football is the Premier league and TV. Until all players are booked for dissent towards an official it won’t stop.

Lee Homan: I managed a sports centre and saw this nonsense weekly. If referees or the league did nothing then I took the right of a home pitch [away from the club]. No pitch, no play.

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