It is
a six-figure job, with plenty of travel, free
tickets for the family and a world-class support network. Frankly, it is almost as good as
being a footballer, but English football’s attitude to those who oversee 850,000 games
a year is damaging the refereeing profession. At the depths of the pyramid, well away from
the Premier League and where most of the 31,735 Football Association-affiliated officials
do their whistling, it is a very different experience. According to the FA’s own figures, the game
lost nearly 6,700 referees last year. That was an improvement on the year before, when
nearly one in four referees quit. The good news is that English football is
replacing referees as quickly as it is loses them. The bad news is that four out of five
of these replacements are under 18, have done the training course as part of a PE qualification
or for their Duke of Edinburgh award, and will quit within two years. The explanation for why can be found on the
touchlines of far too many amateur and youth games every weekend, can be heard on radio
phone-ins, and can be seen on TV and social media. The former head of the Professional Game Match
Officials Limited, Keith Hackett, presided over hundreds of games in a career that started
when he was 16 in Sheffield’s local leagues and finished just short of his 50th birthday
in the Premier League. “There is a different intensity in amateur
and youth football to when I took up the whistle,” the 75-year-old Yorkshireman told The Athletic.
“The games are more competitive, more aggressive and more difficult to control. A lot of the
problems come from parents. It’s incredible how much abuse referees receive from the sidelines. “I don’t think the Match of the Day pundits
realise the influence they have. I did some big matches and made mistakes. But I don’t
remember living with the amount of scrutiny that today’s referees face. “And these inexperienced refs are held to
the same standards as the guys at the top of the pyramid — that can’t be fair. “I never felt frightened when I was a young
ref. I wasn’t intimated, I was welcomed. But the young refs now need a degree of resilience
that wasn’t necessary 40 or 50 years ago.” Martin Cassidy refereed in the Football League
until an injury ended his hopes of reaching the top-flight in 2006. He then spent seven
years as a referee coach for the FA before setting up Ref Support in 2016. Now a charity, Ref Support is an independent
voice for officials in the United Kingdom and Cassidy, as its chief executive, thinks
he knows why so many quit. “Some go because they’re too old, some
will go because they’re fed up of the abuse and some will go because they can earn more
money for less effort by officiating in unaffiliated five- and six-a-side leagues,” he says. But Cassidy also believes the authorities
are failing to protect officials by being too soft on violent players, a situation compounded
by local police forces’ reluctance to get involved. “If Martin Atkinson makes a mistake in a
game in London, is unlikely to get any grief the following day at home in Yorkshire,”
says Cassidy. “But if you make a mistake on Hackney Marshes,
you might see those players in the supermarket. Your kids might get a mouthful of abuse or
worse because their dad got somebody a three-game ban. “I know of a referee whose son plays in
the Premier League. He was assaulted during a game — a player tried to bite his nose
— and he wanted to report it but his son persuaded him not to because that team drank
in the local pubs. “Everyone who has played amateur football
knows there is a bad team in every league, the one that causes all the trouble. But there
is still no robust system for dealing with these things.” Having introduced its Respect campaign to
improve behaviour in 2008, the FA is keen to point out that only 0.01 per cent of those
850,000 games include an incident of assault. But Cassidy says that is still two a week
— “two-a-week too many” — and wonders how many incidents are unproven or unreported.
Even Field, whose organisation tends to be less critical of the FA and county FAs, thinks
the real figure is much higher. For Cassidy, Field and Hackett, the answer
is much tougher sanctions. The recommended sanction for making physical
contact with an official is a six-month ban. This could be pushing the referee or snatching
their cards away. For actually striking an official, the ban can be five years or even
life. While the FA has tried to make sanctions more
consistent across the 50 county FAs with centrally appointed disciplinary panels, they all wonder
why more indefinite bans, known as ‘sine die’ suspensions, are not being dished out. Ref Support has also lobbied hard to allow
officials to wear body cameras but the idea has been ruled out by the game’s law-making
body the International Football Association Board, of which the four British home nations
are permanent members. The FA believe there would be child protection
and data privacy issues if referees use body cams. Cassidy dismisses this and said he is
consulting lawyers over a possible challenge to the IFAB ruling at the Court of Arbitration
for Sport. “Refereeing can be brilliant but it can
also be better,” he adds. On this point, Field agrees but his answers
to the problems are slightly different. First, as the FA’s numbers would suggest,
recruitment is not the issue. In fact, there are waiting lists for training courses as
there are only 500 tutors in the country. Field would use some of the £35 million county
FAs have sitting in their bank accounts as “rainy day money” to double the tutor
pool. “There are people queuing up to give us
money — let’s make that easier,” he joked. But he also wants to give new referees
a lot more for their tuition fees, which range from free to £180 depending on which county
you try and how badly they need referees at that particular moment. He believes fewer referees would quit if the
training was better and there were more opportunities for continuous personal development. At present,
only referees who want to progress beyond level five on the pyramid — senior county
referees — have to refresh their knowledge or prove their fitness. More money for training would also make it
more likely that good, young, active referees, who tend to be trying to climb up the ladder,
would be willing to act as mentors, observers and tutors. Field wants the FA to do more for its officials.
He points out that the FA’s refereeing budget is about £1.8 million a year, less than it
pays England manager Gareth Southgate. “If you want a headline”, said Field,
“you could say the chairman of the RA thinks the FA should double the budget,” This year, he has also been working hard with
the Home Office and Sports Minister Nigel Adams to persuade the courts to “realise
an assault on a referee is not just a football matter”. Field wants the sentencing guidelines
changed so attacking a referee is treated in the same way as an assault on a police
community support officer or traffic warden. But he is less convinced by the latest iteration
of the FA’s Respect initiative: putting officials under the age of 18 in purple shirts
or yellow socks to highlight the fact they are children. “Isn’t it sad that it’s come to this?”
he asks. For him, any adult who abuses a young official
should be sent on a safeguarding course and if they come from a club with FA charter status,
the club should be in trouble, too. Field believes clubs with poor disciplinary records
should not receive grants from the football authorities. Cassidy is another who sees the purple-shirt
idea as well-intentioned but fundamentally depressing. “What does the purple shirt idea say about
how we treat referees? “he asks. “Can you imagine having to point out to people
that this person is a child in any other walk of life?” He is also fed up with those who abuse officials
on social media. “We’ve seen guys with senior roles at
clubs saying such and such ref ‘needs shooting’ or is an ‘effing cheat,’” he says. “I
am a big believer that the abuse of referees evolves in the same way that crime does and
if you don’t nip it in the bud you are asking for trouble later on.” But despite the annual churn, the scorn from
the sidelines, blockages in the pyramid, Twitter trolls and VAR controversies, Cassidy, Hackett,
and Field agree on one thing. “It is a fantastic career,” said Field. “I often say to young referees that somebody
has to take charge of the 2039 FA Cup Final — it could be you.”

Tagged : # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

Dennis Veasley

100 thoughts on “Why are there So Few Football Referees in the UK?”

  1. Any referee that has integrity probably wants to go to a league that has some integrity as well. Why would anyone want to be a yes man for the FA?

  2. I quit as a referee, you get so much shit that it's just not worth it. I'm not giving up 2 hours of my day off (or more if I have to travel) to be sworn at, spat at, physically threatened or worse. I know refs who have been attacked after matches. I don't care about not being paid much, I reffed for the love of the game, but it's hard to love the game when all you get is grief for trying to help – you literally can't have a proper match without a referee. It's also hard to learn and become a better ref when any mistake leads to people jumping down your throat, the pressure is ridiculous. The FA don't want to hear any complaints, the due process is awful. I'm glad I quit and I won't be returning unless major changes happened.

  3. The solution is changing the culture in the PL. If fans see players surrounding and abusing Refs there, then they will do exactly the same on a Sunday morning, but just take it a few steps further. Refs in the PL need to be given the authority and backing to "ruin" games for a season or two by sending off multiple players who keep getting in their faces when a decision goes against them, only the captain should be able to calmly and respectfully talk with the referee about a decision he has made, if anyone else does, it's a yellow card, players will soon get the message.

    The reason this won't happen, and it is understandable, is that a whole season might be wrecked by a confetti of yellow cards changing results, but it must be done, otherwise we get 19 year old kids getting beaten up in a car park for awarding a penalty against a team that disagreed with it.

  4. I'm a basketball official in the USA and have quit doing any youth games. The parents are just awful and it isn't worth losing my weekend to get yelled for $25/game

  5. I completed my referee course when I was 14. I lasted about 2 years before quitting. I often couldn’t travel to games and when I was able to get a lift, the abuse wasn’t worth it, being told to ‘F*** off you blind t**t’ by a player and that players parent actually adding further insults instead of admonishing them made it totally unpalatable. I was 16 at the time and this was 15 years ago.

  6. Things at the bottom end haven't been helped by things at the top end of the game, where our "finest" referee's display ongoing ineptitutde and absolutely zero accountability. It's that complete and utter lack of accountability that has done damage to the game and the repuutation of all everyrefereees, everywhere else, at every level.

    I say, now that we've given them the tools to do their jobs properly, we should restructure the way their saleries are paid. Basically, 50% of a referees wages should be based on match performance. IF you start to penalise them financially, they'll improve in quality in no time at all.

    Respect is a two way street and the referee's and FA just don't give it to anyone

  7. Hi Everyone,
    I am a rugby referee and I can tell you the difference and why I wouldn't referee football. It might highlight some areas in which football can learn from rugby.

    My first point is that abuse of referees from players is close to non existent because of the on field sanctions. Shouting for something to saying "f**k sake ref" can result in a penalty. Repeated again and the player is likely to be sin binned or red carded depending on the severity of the offence. Example if you look up Dylan Hartley (England captain at the time) his red card in the premiership final. He said "f**king cheat" in the referees direction and was promptly sent off in the seasons biggest game. IN my opinion that is the way it should be and the FA would do well to advise football referees to take a tough stance and then back them when they do.

    The second point is on sideline abuse, this includes substitutes, staff and fans. I live in Scotland and the SRU use a system called "whotheref" to fixture games and report scores. Also inside this system is a reporting tool for abuse from the sidelines. Once reported there is a hearing with the club and having signed up each year a first offence come with a 4 figure fine. This is enough of a deterrent for most clubs to stop staff or fans from abusing referees. I have been abused by staff and once reminded of this reporting tool the abuse has stopped and has always been followed by an apology post game. This heavy handed approach works too with fans in bigger clubs where a member of the club usually reminds fans of their responsibilities and the damage their abuse of the referee can have on the club.

    My third point is the support network. I cannot comment on this aspect from a football perspective but i can advise from the rugby perspective. We have monthly meetings, assessments, mentors and regular training and pathways to progress open to everyone. We also get a generous travel expenses and are widely welcomed and given feedback by senior members of both clubs and referees.

    Sorry if this is a bit of a ramble but if anyone would like to ask any questions ask away 🙂

  8. OMG, tifo referincing Mr. Robot and Evil Corp is something I never knew I wanted, but makes so much sense..I love it!!!

  9. Referees need bodycams. It would help stop so many problems before they even start.

    America has the UK completely beat with the referee system. Shockingly enough we actually do something about physical abuse, more than likely the coach will be banned from the complex if not kicked out of the club BY THE CLUB. Verbal abuse is also taken very seriously. Parents are basically out of everyone's control as we can't punish them for speaking however we as referees can abandon the match. Unfortunately, that also punishes the team's playing.

    Every referee aside from those who referee for PRO also wears the same uniform and grade isn't shown on badges only the year. Unfortunately, we have many terrible referees who don't do enough during the match but rarely do we lose referees because of parents or coaches or players. Most of the youth referees are players themselves and many of the youth matches are refereed by referees under the age of 18.

    If you read all of this congratulations, you now know a goalkeeper and referee's insight into the US Soccer Referee Program. Sorry for the long-winded comment.

  10. My brother got terribly abused and harrased at his first game at 16 at u7s its not even competitive at that age theres no league liverpool is an awful league

  11. Historians have recently discovered that life on Earth didn't really start in the oceans, but actually originally appeared in the Athletic

  12. I was a ref for the early part of this century, before a car accident left me unable to run. Here’s my two penneth. Reffing at local level is shit. Doing kids football is ok, and I used to have an easy way to shut the loud mouthed parents and coaches up, I just embarrassed them. 'You’re really saying that in front of your child and their mates?, grow up' kind of thing. Adult local football was horrible. Sunday morning adult football even worse. You feel so isolated as one person against everyone else, the team, their coaches, their fans. I stopped doing that within about 3 years. The best thing we had was the local league team's youth academy, which at that time was part of the premier league academy. Up to the U15 teams you could referee the games and at U16 you could run the line. We used it as a kind of mentoring system for new and young refs, in a controlled and supportive environment. We would even share games, doing a half each and spending the other half evaluating each other's performance. Plus we got to watch the best young players from Chelsea, Arsenal and so on and also get to watch and listen to the best youth coaches, which was an amazing experience. Also, the youth team players are so well behaved so it was always enjoyable to ref the matches.
    For me there is a problem in how fast refs can progress. If you are reffing when a teenager you haven’t played enough of the game to have a good enough understanding, but if you wait until you are 30, which I did, you are too old to take the career anywhere.

  13. Essay here:
    I started at 14 back in 2011, I remember my first “big appointment” for a junior official, a county cup match (U11’s). I was so happy to be involved but ended up having the parents of the away team giving me death threats as the lost after extra time. Parents found out where I lived and were shouting it to each other “to organise a lynching.” I ended up being shielded by the home team for over an hour. I kept going and got pretty far, but quit 2 years ago as the abuse every game was unreal, the last match I did ended up being cornered by a few player who threatened to rape me for it.
    And the punishment both incidents got? A written reminder of the expected behaviours of the game. I have zero faith in the FA as the really don’t seem to care.

  14. I’m happy our community/rec league has been supporting the refs for many years by:

    1) Not tolerating any abuse towards refs from parents and coaches. (We crack down on them if it’s towards the ref or not. No room for that type of behaviour)
    2) Let the referees caution and send off coaches and also let them kick parents out.
    3) Pay them them well enough above minimum wage so the appeal is better.
    4) Offer as much mentoring and training support as possible.

    So many sports here (I’m from Canada) have so much abuse for their refs and who could blame a kid for not wanting that.

  15. Before I watch the video I must comment:
    It's not just in the UK, in Malta this is also a problem and they (The MFA) import foreign refs.

  16. Tifo.. I love this video I can speech from experience as I started reffing when I was 15 in Northern California which is a big hub for refs in the United States. Many of the refs that end up being national refs or even fifa refs comes from Nor Cal, but even here people are so hostile and expect us to be perfect which is not the case. Anyways love the channel and love the video!

  17. As a Ref myself, I think the saddest thing is how I and everyone else just has to accept the abuse as part of the job. The thing I've learned to think about is whether their criticism is valid. If it is, then there is something I can build on and get better with, and if it isn't, I can disregard it. The abuse they shout is not only out of place, its also often misguided and incorrect.

  18. I'll never get over how middle aged men feel like they can abuse whoever they want whenever they want. You see it with the racist abuse players are still recieving at the top levels of the game in England.

  19. I reffed for a bit. In a U10s pre season game I had an incident occur where by the letter of the Law I should have issued a Red Card. Instead I had a word with the Kid's coach and asked him to sub him off instead so there would be no cards, fines or suspension. The Kid's Dad said he'd be waiting in the car park for me afterwards. At Sunday League level lad culture is just ruining the game. For what is essentially organised recreational football the behaviour of many players is just toxic.

  20. Nigel Adams won’t do shit. He can’t stop the football hooligans in central Yorkshire, and he has no clout whatsoever.

  21. All team sports have this huge problem: parents live vicariously through their children and think they can boss about the refs and coordinators. Entitlement through the roof.

  22. The biggest problem is that 2/3 referees aren't up to what is an incredibly difficult job and frustration with this is inevitable.

    I stopped playing football 2 years ago after a bad tackle done my knee ligaments and I had to miss 3 months of work. The game was clearly getting out of hand, the referee did nothing to stop it, some lad 2 footed me and that was that. The referee yellow carded him! I was so angry that if I was able to stand I'd have snapped the lads leg then the referee's neck. I had to stop playing the sport I've loved as a result.

    My point is, the lack of training and selection makes some referees so bad to be dangerous and if you're asking/expecting people not to lose their temper when someone is endangering both thier's and their children's health you're being naive. I can live with bad decisions, it's just a game but they must be stronger and show authority at all levels.

  23. People need to start understanding that sunday league football is irrelevant- it’s supposed to be a bit of fun for kids, or a bit of exercise. instead Parents and Coaches often can be seen screaming at young kids playing and reffing. There is a baffling level of seriousness among ‘supporters’ for what frankly is a shit standard of football that has no real significance

  24. As a player for many years at youth level now I see how much hassle referees get from our opponents as we were always brought up as a squad to respect the officials and be polite to them and not once was anything ever reported when a referee was assaulted or had other issues during a game through fear the FA is shocking at handling situations like that and just hide away using stats that arnt actually true

  25. I've been playing senior level amateur or Sunday league football for the last 10 or so years, and I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would choose to be a referee. I'm extremely grateful that some do, but the amount of abuse they get on a regular basis is unbelievable.

  26. Because of horrible parents and arm chair refs who think they know better because they watched the replay in slow motion a couple of times.

  27. Can't wait until there are no refs left to command the game, that'll shut up the red faced gammon pricks in the sidelines. If you actually want to play football like a civilized human, go to the continent.

  28. Immigrants will take the referee jobs without complaining. Insults and threats mean nothing to people who have nothing left to lose. They will rush the jobs, simple. Sad but true.

  29. In the Netherlands we have the same kind of problem. Here they dont even make a 6 figure salary and most of them have jobs on the side. And the amount of times a referee has been killed or put in the hospital is disgraceful. All of them on amateur level.

  30. I have been a referee for many years. I think a number of things have been exaggerated here. I referee at the very bottom level, and, the vast majority of the time, the players get on with the game. There is virtually no touchline abuse (because there are virtually no people at the touchlines). I've been an assistant referee at a proper ground, and the fans there were…acceptable.

    You do get abuse and you do need a thick skin. But most of the time the players will get annoyed, say 'that was shit, ref' and walk away. (My rule of thumb is I only send a player off if they direct insults directly at me, ie. 'You are shit, ref'.

    Mostly I want to stick up for support from the league. I've had a couple of really rough games. I reported it to the relevant FAs (Gloucestershire and Cambridgeshire, as I moved), and the team was called up into a very official meeting, and suitably chastised. I want to applaud the associations for how much effort they put into looking after the ref. Most of the time I wasn't that bothered, but the FA insisted on following it up. I even had a 'problem team', so I was nervous going into a game after having called them up in front of a disciplinary board. To the team's/players' credit, they were good as gold and treated me well.

    I experienced one moment of violence, and this was, dramatically, having a ball kicked at me (multiple times). In six years, this was literally the only time I experienced anything violent. Again, I wasn't that bothered. But, after reporting it to the FA, I received a call from the local police force asking if I wanted to file charges for physical abuse. That is to say, the FA insisted on contacting the police and going through legal channels, even for so minor an incident. (Naturally, I apologised to the police, but they were insistent that I do something, so they talked me up to requesting an official letter of apology (as I had less than no interest in pressing charges)).

    I've reffed in rough areas, against rough teams, and heard a lot of rough things. But I've never felt in danger. And the FAs have a lot to do with that. I was being monitered in a game once, as routine training, and the monitor said 'You would have had every right to call that game off'. So I know that if it ever came to something, I can do that, and simply walk away. I have never come close (apart from on that occasion) to even considering it.

    So, the primary exaggeration in this report is 'that they have no backup'. There are a huge number of tools I have available for dealing with tricky situations. It is also an exaggeration to say that I frequently have cause to use them. This is what I'd tell a young referee. If you've had enough, you can just leave. So you can have whatever tolerance level you feel comfortable with.

  31. The problem at least in Scotland I think is that the coaches at low levels are too often in charge because of their reputation as players and of aggression rather than for their competence at developing young boys into men by teaching them admireable qualities. People want their kids to win instead of to learn and progress, the culture is just off

  32. As much as I'll hate on a Ref for calling something against my team, I also understand that they're just people doing their job. I don't personally hate them, I just want my team to win. I'd never incite violence against them though, that shits too far.

    Unless it's VAR.

  33. Losing Referees isn't only a British problem. I'm a referee in Germany and I can tell you that we in Germany have the same problems

  34. I referee and I do it because I love it. If it was for a course or for the money I can see why people quit. It does my head in but these stats show why you have to carry on

  35. I have been officiating for the last 20 years here in Canada and realized that refereeing is a rewarding second career. The insults and abuse you receive from parents in youth games, and online by keyboard warriors needs to be taken more seriously by Football Associations are the world. This attacking of referees in just not in the UK but all over Europe, North.South America and Oceania. Thank you for creating the video to Matt Slater's well-written article in The Athletic. Love seeing more officiating articles in the Athletic.

  36. People who take sport personally are fucking pathetic wankers. Its a fucking game. A GAME. not your lifes worth you fucking sorry ass sore losers

  37. As the captain of amateur team, I always make an effort to shake the hands ref before and after the game and make sure no one on my team yells at the ref (not always easy).

    Refs love the game just like the players.

  38. I volunteered to ref at U9 U8 at my team, i was 15 and faced abuse, it's not nice when a middle aged man confronts you about your skills as a ref. The kids were fine, the parents were not.

  39. I'm from Romania and i was a ref when i was 16-18. I can confirm what the other guys from all over the world are saying : there's no pay, the local FAs always take the side of the clubs, threats or actual violence against refs are seen as "part of the game" in most rural places and so on.
    I was an assistant ref mostly, and in one Cup game i had a car driving up and down the sideline not more than 2 meters away from me at any point. I was flat out told they'd run me over if i don't "do a proper job". Another time there was the village cowboy (which is almost like a hobo here, nothing like the US) crack his whip close my feet the entire game, also to make sure i "do my job properly". By FIFA law there has to be police protection at any official competitive match, but i've seen more than once the local police joining the players/peasants in beating the ref. I'm talking about games with at least a couple of hundred people in the stands, not amateur league.

  40. I have been a soccer referee here in New Mexico for twelve years. The amount of abuse is fucking unacceptable.. I do not tolerate players, coaches or spectators abusing me or my assistants. I threw out a principle of one of the biggest high schools, and I was sanctioned not the principle. I have quit high school officiating I only referee amateur adult and amateur kid's games.

  41. I qualified when I was 14 and am now a 20 year old level 4. Many times I have considered stopping refereeing altogether simply because of the lack of support from the FA, and the system setup as a whole. The fundamental problem from my experiences lie within the grassroots Sunday game. It is here, where a referee is alone with no assistants to help them that they can become targeted and subject to most abuse. Thankfully I stuck through to the point where I am now refereeing at a level that guarantees I will have assistants and most often an observer too, in a much more organised and professional setup. If the FA doesn't take more proactive steps (like sin bins which have been good) then grassroots football will fail through a fundamental lack of referees willingness.

  42. In the USA I love my job. It’s a good job for young people. We are super young (14 yo) and we were names best referees in the region and one of the best in groups in the US. we are abused and screamed at all the time, but we love it. Everything I’m the video is right, they are terrible to us be we love it. I work with 2000 referees right now in my club and although we take a lot of shit, we love our jobs.

  43. Reading through these comments is a depressing insight into how grassroots football is. Unfortunately I had similar experiences when I refereed football between 2005-2012. I was threatened by players in the changing rooms after games on several occasions in the men's leagues, as a 16/17 year old lad it was quite a difficult thing to take in. The final straw was when I had to be escorted out of an under 10's game of football as one of the parents who I had sent away from the game for screaming abuse at one of the oppositions players (a ten year old…) was waiting in the car park for me after the game. FA gave the club a small fine. What a huge deterrent…

  44. These people that abuse the match officials are utter moron's. They are not professionals footballers their livelihoods and careers are elsewhere and turn something that should be fun and a release from the stresses of everyday life into something not worth doing. When leagues have to fold because there are no longer enough referees they be sorry.

  45. You guys should really do a video on Markus Rosenberg and his impact on Malmö FF. His play has given the team a economic dominance in Sweden.

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