Hello and thank you for taking the time to read this open letter. I wanted to take this opportunity to provide an update and make all of our stakeholders aware of the current challenges we face on the refereeing side of the game.
In what has been a really difficult and challenging 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been working hard throughout this period to engage, support and offer our volunteer workforce as much support as we possibly can, which has included online training and development, guest speakers, training modules, mental health and wellbeing support and regular contact to ensure our referees feel supported and valued.
Also, during this period we set up our inaugural ‘Match Official Consultation Group’ in order to ensure that we better engage and listen to the needs of our referee workforce and look to implement any key changes to offer improved support and development. Listening to our volunteer workforce is something that I am very passionate about and I’ll ensure we do this at regular intervals during the season.
As the vast majority of our leagues commence their respective seasons this coming weekend, it is sad to hear of the shortage of referees completing their registration for 2021/22 or making themselves available to leagues and clubs. This is not only a problem that we are experiencing here at North Riding County FA – it appears to be a problem nationally.
In order to be fully transparent, as of today (9 September), our re-registration sign up is around 69% of last season’s registrations. We are working extremely hard to try and increase and welcome back the 31% that have not completed the process so far, and we hope that many will over the coming weeks. In the past month, we have also trained around 60 new referees and we are currently supporting them through mentor support and ongoing training, to ensure they make the transition into grassroots football.
Clearly, there is a number of reasons for the shortage, and the Covid-19 pandemic has played a significant part in perhaps a number not completing their re-registration due to losing some interest or other key reasons.
I do, however, feel that I need to raise the following points and ask for the support of our ‘grassroots family’ to ensure that we all play our part in ensuring we can recruit and retain enough referees to support the grassroots game.
I feel everybody within the game needs to consider the way in which they treat referees. Some of the reported conduct and behaviour that I and my colleagues hear about and have to deal with on a weekly basis is totally unacceptable and quite simply does not help to recruit and retain referees. Whilst the conduct and behaviour is not the sole reason for the shortage, it is a fundamental reason, and everybody within the game must consider and change their behaviour towards referees or the shortage will only increase.
I fully understand how passionate a game of football is for everybody involved (players, coaches, parents and family members) and our referees understand this too and work very hard to ensure you all have a positive experience on a weekend.
Our referees make honest decisions, yes they will make mistakes, just like our players and coaches will do – this is football, and at times, a decision or two will go against your team, and not be ideal or what you expect – we all understand this, and trust me; nobody is more disappointed at making a mistake than a referee!
I am asking you all to reflect upon how you perhaps engage with our referees and any comments you may make during or after the game, and just think that the referee in your game this weekend or next has given up his / her time to try and allow you and your son / daughter’s team to enjoy a game of football to the best of their ability. They are not perfect and won’t get every decision correct, nor please both teams every time. This is not possible, but they will work hard and they have no interest in who wins the game.
Also, if you see other people being abusive to the referee at your game, either on the pitch or on the sidelines, we encourage you to challenge this behaviour in an appropriate manner, to make others reconsider their actions.
I and members of my volunteer Referee Development Team have to deal with some of the unacceptable experiences that our referees endure. At times we are dealing with young people who could be your son or daughter, or a more experienced person who could be a father or wife of somebody who is verbally abused because they simply make an honest decision that you perhaps don’t agree with.
Over the coming months, it is likely that a number of our local games will not have a referee appointed and teams will need to agree to officiate the game themselves. I appreciate that this is not ideal, and we are working tirelessly to address this matter and hopefully the situation will improve. If you are lucky to have a referee, please treat them with respect, and perhaps engage with some positive comments and remember they are doing their best and will not be perfect.
In order to be fully transparent, I would like to confirm that referees are also held to account over their conduct when it comes to the way in which they speak with stakeholders, and this is not a ‘closed shop’. We do fully investigate referees that are reported for any such alleged incidents, albeit this is very rare. Referees who make a ‘footballing’ decision and perhaps get it wrong is just part and parcel of the game, unless it is contrary to Law.
We have a significant number of young referees who are under the age of 18, and these referees should be clearly identified by the wearing of their U18 YELLOW REFEREE ARMBAND.
It is totally inappropriate for anybody to engage or offer any abusive comments to a minor. As a County FA we have zero tolerance approach to this, and should a participant be found guilty this will be reported to the FA’s Safeguarding Department, as well as be dealt with by our disciplinary department. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any misconduct towards any of our referees and ask that all stakeholders support our referees should they see any behaviour of this sort.
I would also like to thank the majority of our clubs who fully support our referees and for their ongoing commitment. Whilst I have documented the above, it is only fair to say and document that we have thousands of games taking place each month with a real positive experience, and lots of positive feedback by both referee and clubs, and this is something that we look forward to this coming season.
Finally, I would like to say a massive ‘thanks’ to all of our referees who have signed up for 2021-22 and who go out there each week, in at times what can be really challenging circumstances, and do their 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 North Riding County FA. We are working hard to ensure you all feel valued and can go out and referee fully prepared. Whilst we don’t always get it right, we will continue to work hard to support each and every one of you and make improvements to refereeing as best we can.
Best wishes to everybody for the 2021-22 season!
Referee Development Manager
North Riding County FA