The number of young referees over the past few years has not ceased to increase yet local football leagues and associations struggle to find them. 


When we think of a referee, we may think about the generous sum of money they receive for around two hours of work but for some reason we forget about what can really happen to them on and off the field. Over 80% of young referees in Hertfordshire have left the role of being in the middle after 2 years due to the endless amounts of abuse they were receiving. Football is one of the most invested and appreciated sports in the UK and all around the world and up until this present day, we have failed every time to properly provide protection for these young people. 



So, it could even be disputed whether referees get payed enough for the strenuous amount of pressure they are under. Should referees have to turn up to games feeling worried about what might happen to them? Referees should be able to feel like they have the support they need in order to referee with a sense of fun. Whether their dream is to reach the next level in officiating football or reach the notorious World Cup final, bit by bit we are starting to see childhood dreams become distant because of abuse becoming the “norm”.


A youth referee is seen as anyone from 15-18 years of age. They are open to officiate in any age group as a linesman or the referee in the middle. After noticing an increase in uncivilised behaviour on and off the pitch towards match officials and other members, in 2008, the FA launched the Respect Campaign to highlight the negative influences this had towards the younger players and how this could be changed to ensure that the game was fairer and more enjoyable for everyone. 9 out of 10 youth players played significantly better when the level of respect from everyone was maintained throughout from reaching the ground, to leaving it. Ever since, more and more publicity has been gained from the campaign and we are finally starting to see improvements for all ages including adult and open age. But why did it have to come to this? I mean it’s only a football game, right?

And the big question lies there. For some, the game is taken too far and especially for amateur football, we should be promoting the positive aspects of what it means to take part, and not promoting a sense of danger like there has been in the past. 



Abuse comes in many different forms with the majority being verbal. Every Saturday or Sunday we are more than likely to see one referee facing abuse in one form or another. Others have reported to be threatened after the match and also during the game but the one that strikes people the most is the amount of physical abuse a referee can face. According to recent studies a very concerning 15% of referees faced physical abuse. At what point have we ever thought it was acceptable to use physical abuse to take our anger out on the referee? 


But it’s not just the physical impacts that the job can have on individuals. No matter what age, we all have mental health and it only takes one comment to throw someone off the idea of refereeing. Any form of abuse can lead to increased anxiety levels and can sometimes leave referees psychologically damaged. The rate at which individuals are leaving the job is only increasing because of this one issue in football. 


A local referee that I was fortunate enough to talk to told me: “Sometimes I get so nervous that all I can think of is the game that I have next at the weekend. What if something goes wrong? What if I mess up? Managers, players and parents in some cases all have a role in the game and I think some are starting to see how far they can push referees. The abuse I received in previous seasons almost lead me to just giving up the job.”

These are all worrying figures and facts that need to be buried far into the ground and quickly.


But is holding a set of yellow and red cards and a whistle enough to prevent people from crossing the line? Probably not. However, the FA in the best interests of referees have invented ways of making sure no one crosses that line.


Implemented from the 2019-2020 season, all leagues now have a Sin Bin system in which players showing any sign of dissent to a referee can be taken off the field for 10 minutes. After several trials took place, it became evident that more and more players were respecting the referee’s decisions. During the trial there was a 38% reduction in dissent across all participating leagues. Before that, in the 2016-17 season across all leagues at grassroots level, there were 73,500 cautions for dissent! 72% of players, 77% of managers and 84% of referees said they wanted to continue with Sin Bins because they thought it would promote a better level of discipline and respect for everyone. Managers can also be cautioned or sent off for any form of behaviour that is unacceptable. 


Any report a referee makes is taken very seriously and offenders are often sanctioned immediately. 


But there is a lot more to be done.


Should referees start to wear body cameras? Should the minimum age to become a referee be increased for the well being of younger aspirers who want to be part of this great game in the future? More people must speak out about the issues that arise within the game. And we won’t lie. Probably all of us at one point in our lives have shouted at an official for a wrong decision. What we are quick to forget is that no matter how wrong a decision looks, referees are humans too. They only have one pair of eyes and are under extreme pressure. So, if you’re up for the challenge, give it a go yourself and then you will see how difficult being in the middle really is. 


Let’s substitute abuse and make the game better for all. 



Josh Dear