experience, it's harder to get a qualified ref to officiate a junior
soccer match than it is to get hold of a X-Box 360 on Christmas Eve.
The article below, (kindly donated by
goes some way to explaining why.
we have a qualified referee for all of our youth games?
OK, let me set the
scene, I (the Referee) am 10 minutes into the first half of the Under 10's
Minor Youth Cup competition, and so far I have had very little Refereeing
to do. Suddenly, for no discernible reason at all, little 'Bradley's dad
has decided to continually walk up and down, two metres inside the field
of play, and right in front of all the other parents standing on the touch
line who are trying to watch and enjoy the game.
"I say walk, but
what I really mean is - have you ever seen those athletes on television
who participate in 'walking' races? Not so much a walk, but a sort of
funny shuffling pace.
Bradley's dad is
oblivious to everything but his little boy, and the blue mist that has
descended in front of his eyes. Anyway, I am totally distracted from the
game action itself. Little Bradley casts some furtive and frightened looks
towards his dad. His eyes are beginning to glaze over, his head drops.
Bradley's dad continues with his funny walk and tirade of meaningless
instructions to his son, interspersed with the usual pleasant expletives
for me, the Referee, every time a decision is made against his son's team.
"Oh shut up dad". I'm glad that Bradley's dad cannot hear him - I dread to
think of the consequences for Bradley. But Bradley is right "SHUT UP DAD"
Are you beginning
to get the picture?
Officiating at 'Youth' games where young children are involved can
sometimes be likened to being attacked with a double-edged sword. Not only
does the Referee have the dissenting players to contend with, they are
very often given the extra bonus of parent abuse! And all for no extra
it is all doom and gloom?"
After a very long-playing career at local level, I had Refereed in the
English County of Wiltshire for a number of years. Why did I decide to
become a Referee? Probably for the same simple reasons as everyone else
who is involved with football - because we all love this beautiful game.
It’s in our blood. It is addictive to both players, and to Referees.
This article attempts to give just a very small insight into some of the
real problems that Referees have to face. There are a number of Referees
who are totally committed to Youth football, and I admire them for their
fortitude. A close Referee colleague of mine, is the local County Youth
Referees’ Appointment Secretary, and he is one of the best Referees in the
County. He is totally dedicated to Refereeing both in Youth and in Senior
levels of football. There is also a very dedicated band of Youth Team Club
officials and parents in my County, whom are dedicated to improving the
relationships within youth football – so it is not all doom and gloom.
But officiating as a Referee in youth matches is not my 'cup of tea'. -
And I'll explain why.
Refereeing is mostly a very thankless task. When a Referee travels to a
game, their destination is akin to visiting the Coliseum in Rome. The
Referee standing in the centre circle at the beginning of each game – is
much like being thrown into the lions’ den. Surrounding the Referee, and
waiting for the first sign of weakness or excuse, are 22 passionate
players; 6 or more substitutes, managers, coaches, spectators and of
course let’s not forget ‘The Parents’. The Referees role and
responsibilities at the lower Park levels can be very daunting. This job
is certainly not for the faint hearted. Conversely – the buzz that a
Referee can get from officiating can only be explained by experiencing it
Contrary to popular belief, Referees are human. When first arriving at the
ground, Referees like to be sociable, yet at the same time, they must not
be seen to favour a particular team. This means that Referees can
sometimes seem aloof. This is one way that Referees can use to distance
themselves from becoming over-friendly. Experience has taught Referees
that no matter how friendly they are, it only takes one incident in the
game to turn pleasant everyday people (and more so ‘The Parents’) into
what can best be described as 'monsters out of control’.. And that is
"It’s not really my cup of tea"
These incidents are known as ‘flash points’. Referees are well aware of
‘flash-points’ and you can almost guarantee at least one of them appearing
in every game. To become a Referee, you have to pass exams on your
knowledge of the Laws of Associated Football (commonly referred to as the
LOAF). Passing the exam is the easy bit. The hard bit comes during the
Referee’s ‘baptism of fire’, when he suddenly realises that Refereeing is
not so much about learning and applying the Laws, but more about
single-handed man-management of the most difficult situations a person can
ever be confronted with.
When I trained new Referees with my local Melksham Referees' Society. We
organised three of four Referee training weekends throughout each year.
This voluntary training takes up the whole of a Saturday and a Sunday
(0900-1830) each day. The training was provided free of charge, and the
instructors are NOT paid. Of the approximately 15 candidates per session,
about half will have come from a Youth Football Club background, some of
them parents, some players, some managers, some Club Linesmen etc.....
In a normal year, the Melksham Referees’ Society trains approximately 40
or 50 new Referee candidates. At a very rough guess - about half of them
(say 25) actually go on to start Refereeing, the remainder being content
with just learning the Laws. After a year or so, we would be very lucky to
have 10 out of the remaining 25, who are still Refereeing. The others will
have already decided that the abuse is just not worth it. Counteract this,
with the ever-increasing departure of our experienced Referees, and you
will begin to understand why there are ‘just not enough Referees to go
A number of our Referee recruits are teenagers, who go on to officiate in
the local youth games. These new recruits are the seeds of the next
English Premiership Referees. They need all the encouragement and
protection that can be provided. Some of these 14 or 15 year old Referees
are initially very efficient and confident. I would never have dreamed, or
dared, or been brave enough in my youth, to be a Football Referee at their
To give you a flavour of what these young Referees have to contend with,
at a recent Youth 6-a-side tournament, an Under 10’s game had to be
decided on the taking of penalty kicks. The Referee was a very capable
14-year-old, whose dad was a very experienced Referee. During one of the
last penalty kicks, the young Referee correctly spotted an infringement,
and correctly made the penalty taker re-take the penalty kick. This
resulted in the penalty kick being missed, and the team losing the game.
The young players of the losing team took it in good grace. But wait!
One of the losing teams’ parents (a very angry man of about 35) confronted
the young 14-year-old Referee. Luckily, his disgusting outburst was dealt
with by the Referee’s parent, and a number of other senior Referees
(including myself) who where nearby. In everyday life, such an outburst
against a young child (for let us not forget that the 14 year old Referee
is as much a child as any other 14 year old) could easily have been seen
as a criminal offence by an adult against a minor. But no. Because the
child had a Referee’s shirt on, a certain section of the population see
this as immunity against the Laws of our Country. It is not. This is what
each Referee (no matter what age) has to contend with.
Our young Referees, and those older ones, who regularly officiate on youth
football, can only be admired for the way in which they handle themselves.
Regardless of all the recent Law changes, Football is still a very emotive
physical contact sport. It thrives on high passion and emotions that lead
to heightened excitement - long may it stay that way. I am a great
believer, that the mistakes made by Referees (and more so players) are an
actual integral part of the game itself. Take away the mistakes and you
might as well stay home and watch paint dry. Nevertheless, Referees are a
very genuine people, striving to make little or no mistakes in each game.
But it is impossible to be perfect, and to be honest, anyone who tries to
be is a fool. Referees will always aim to be relaxed and fully
concentrating – and most of all FAIR.
Like the majority of Referees, I'll sometimes hold my hands up - we do
make mistakes, but we also try very very hard, on the field and off the
field, to do our very best for the game we love. Why else would we suffer
such abuse. There is a whole Referees' World away from the game itself.
They hold Referees’ Society meetings, seminars, and conferences. They get
involved with training, officiating at friendly matches, attending
disciplinary hearings, sorting their masses of correspondence, providing
information via the Internet etc. etc...... The 90 or minutes that a
Referee officiates, is just the sharp narrow end of the wedge as far as a
Referee's responsibilities and freely volunteered time is concerned. And
sometimes, they even get time to spend with their family at the weekend!
"There are ‘just not enough Referees to go around".
There is no easy solution for improving the relationship between Referees,
players, spectators, parents and Team officials. The malaise is
symptomatic of the lowering standards of society in general. Manners have
long been forgotten or not taught. Respect - well, that no longer exists
these days. That is not to say that we as Referees can all do our own
little bit to improve both our own lifestyle and ‘football’.
How difficult would it be for team managers to insist that youth players
shake the Referee's hand after every game - especially if the game has not
been to their liking. Why can't the team managers always welcome the
Referee cordially, and thank him after the game, irrespective of the
result. I have had many an irate manager or player venting their anger at
me immediately after games. I'm big enough (6ft and 15 stone) to look
after myself, but I do worry about our youth Referees and the increasing
departure of our experienced long standing Referees. I too, have
considered ‘packing it all in’ on many occasions – all due to abusive
behaviour received whilst officiating.
I am not advocating that football should only be played by perfectly
behaved players in front of robotic parents - of course vent your
emotions, but not in an openly aggressive and abusive manner. Our children
will be the ones who suffer in the long run. They are suffering already.