Non-League Paper – 25/26 September 2021

Article supplied by The Non-League Paper

THE WARNING from the Kent FA on the fall in numbers of match officials for grassroots fixtures makes for worrying reading. Put simply, without referees, the football system cannot function properly.

By David Richardson

In an open letter to clubs, the county FA’s referee development officer Nick Dunn explained the issues they, and many other county associations, seem to be facing in grassroots football.

He said: “We closed the 2020-2021 season with over 1,634 match officials affiliated; the most we have ever received. Ensuring transparency, at this present time of the 2021-2022 season we have 1,247 affiliated match officials, representing almost a 24 per cent loss.

“To put this loss into footballing terms, if each of those 400 referees lost were to referee approximately 20 games a season it results in approximately 8,000 matches being played without a referee.”

Dunn says the matches under their control without a referee are at an all-time high. Not only does this not help the grassroots game, but it makes the development of referees and the progression through the system tougher.

At The NLP, we’ve experienced first-hand the good work the FA are putting in to encourage the development of referees, and therefore retain them. But it’s always going to be hard to keep filling the tank when they are subjected to some of the abuse we see all too often.

Dunn points out that the conduct and behaviour of a minority of participants is not the sole reason for the drop-off, but he believes it is a fundamental one.

Where are we as a society and sport if a match official can’t turn up on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning without fear of what might happen should they dare make a decision somebody doesn’t agree with?

Remember, it might not just come from a player. But spectators or parents overstepping the mark, managers and coaches failing to conduct themselves as they should.

Football is a passionate game. Nobody wants to take that out of it. But there is a very clear line that shouldn’t be crossed. And passion isn’t a good enough reason for losing control over a game of football – something everyone is supposed to be involved in because they enjoy it.

Verbal threats, physical attacks, abusive comments on social media after the game – yes, it’s a minority but it’s far too much.

Often culprits will be handed fines and suspensions. The authorities can only do what they can do, individuals have to take responsibility.

But the game as a whole must also pull together to stamp it out. Clubs must hand out their own individual punishments to the people associated to them who go too far.

Often, this concerns adults going over board at kids football. That’s even more worrying when a parent can’t control their reactions. We’d like to think they would realise the impact it has on their own child’s enjoyment.

The majority of people get involved as a match official because they enjoy the game too. No wonder some are choosing to walk away. Let’s put on a united front to keep them safe – and in the game.

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