Open Letter Regarding Match Official Retention
During the incredibly challenging Covid-19 pandemic, we have been working to offer our referee workforce as much support as we possibly can. This support has included online training & development, mental health & wellbeing support and regular contact to ensure our referees felt fully supported and valued.
Unfortunately, due to the considerable restrictions in place, we were unable to train any new match officials across this 16-month period, with courses resuming in July of this year. In addition to this, 172 referees decided to not re-register ahead of the new season. We understand there were many reasons for this, with many citing abuse from spectators, parents, and coaches as the main reason. Other reasons included finding new hobbies during the pandemic and moving away for University.
How has this impacted us and our leagues? Since football has recommenced this season, there has been a significant shortage of referees affecting the coverage of matches across the County. This concerning issue is being experienced across the entire country and is not isolated to Middlesex.
Since restrictions have lifted, we have trained a further 124 referees, who we hope will become long-serving match officials for the County FA. Moving forward we will have further courses which are set to be confirmed for the first part of 2022, meaning our position should become stronger, but it will take time.
Many of our referees are under 18 and can be identified on match days by wearing their U18 Referee Armband.
It is troubling how many people seem to find physical, verbal or emotional abuse acceptable when directed at match officials, even more so when this is directed at a minor. As a County FA, we take all abuse towards match officials very seriously and would also like to remind clubs that match officials under the age of 18 are still subject to FA Safeguarding legislation.
Please remember, a young referee being in the middle of a pitch, surrounded by twenty-two players, as well as spectators and coaches can be extremely daunting, and they should be supported when carrying out their duties.
Following on from the points raised above, I feel it is appropriate to ask for the support of our stakeholders across Middlesex to ensure that we all play our part in ensuring we can retain enough referees each year to support the grassroots game.
My view is that everyone within the game needs to consider how they treat referees and their assistants. Having to come into the office on a Monday morning to read some of the abhorrent abuse received by our referees is something that cannot continue. We must be better. We must start to change. Whilst the conduct and behaviour isn’t the sole reason for the shortage, it is a key factor that has led to many referees walking away. Everybody within the game must consider their behaviour towards referees to avoid this situation escalating further.
Nobody wants to take away the passion of the game, which is why we have all grown to love it. However, this ‘love’ is being lost by many referees due to the abuse they receive regularly. This is simply unfair on them and should not be happening. The question I would pose to you is, would you still play, coach or spectate if you were abused by strangers throughout?
Our referees make honest decisions and do their best to apply the Laws of the Game. We all understand that referees will make mistakes, as will all participants in the game, that is football. No referee ever goes out onto the field of play to make mistakes or make it difficult for clubs, and never will.
If you take anything away from reading this, please try to think if you could do more to help with the retention of our match officials. The referee in your game this weekend has given up his or her time to allow you and your team to enjoy a game of football, officiating to the best of his or her ability and this should be appreciated.
Unfortunately, you are likely to have several matches this season without a referee appointed to them and we fully appreciate this is far from ideal. As outlined earlier, we are working our hardest to turn this around. In time, the situation will improve. If you are a team lucky enough to have referees appointed, please treat them with the respect that they deserve and whilst you may not agree with all their decisions, please consider how you communicate with the individual in the middle.
I’m keen to get across that this isn’t an attack on our clubs or participants. This is just us being fully transparent and asking for your support with this ongoing challenge. Please note that referees are also held to account for their conduct if it’s deemed inappropriate, we know it is not a one-way street. As with clubs, players or other participants we fully investigate referees if they are reported for any such alleged incidents.
I would also like to thank the majority of our clubs who fully support our referees each week for their ongoing commitment. Despite the main theme of this letter, it is only fair to say that we have a vast number of matches that take place each month with no issues and these provide a hugely positive experience for everyone involved. Please continue that good work for the remainder of this season and beyond.
Finally, I would like to say a massive thank you to all of our referees who have signed up for the 2021-22 season. Also, I have huge respect for those of you who go out there each week, in sometimes challenging conditions, and do your best to ensure thousands of games of football take place each month in a safe environment. It is fully appreciated by us all here at Middlesex FA.
We remain committed to making you all feel valued whilst ensuring you can go out and referee fully prepared. We know we won’t always get it right, but we will continue to work hard to support every one of you and make improvements to your refereeing experience as best we can.
Thank you, I hope everyone enjoys a great 2021-22 season!
Workforce Development Officer