Referees: We Need You

Here at Y Clwb Pel Droed we are in regular contact with one another to discuss what is worth writing about. Match previews and reports, transfers, injuries, the list goes on. Anything football related is given consideration, so when the topic of matches being postponed, mainly due to a lack of referees being available, it was decided we should write about this and try to look for answers to any questions that may help us to find out why this problem exists.

So as a qualified referee as I am, I became the obvious choice to write about this unwanted issue.

Over the weekend, a video appeared and like many who will read this, opened a link to find what can only be described as some idiotic bloke running on to the pitch and for some unknown reason ‘rugby tackling’ the referee. I use the term rugby tackle loosely as it is probably an insult to those who play rugby that this could be catergorised as a tackle, but nevertheless it is an apt term to use to describe what he did to the referee.

After seeing this I was so angry, I was angry at the incident taking place, I was angry the people/s laughing and although separate to this incident I was also angry at comments I read on social media sites, annoyed themselves at their own games ending up being postponed because of a lack of referee to officiate their game. I completely understand the annoyance it causes when you’re ready to go with your match but the referee doesn’t turn up, I have been in that position myself while playing football but to put the blame solely on the referee for not being available is massively unfair.

Why do we find ourselves in a position where we can’t find enough referees to cover these matches, well you don’t have to look much further than this video, a man who went out in the morning in his own free time, to do something he enjoys doing, to only end the day in a hospital bed because some thug wanted to humiliate you for his own amusement, most likely because he was simply the referee.

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Although this maybe an extreme example of what some referees go through, sadly it is not an unheard of problem. BBC Radio 5 did a survey last year with English referees and in that survey they discovered that 1 in 5 referees had been physically abused. My own experiences have fortunately never led to any physical confrontations, but every week without fail I will be verbally abused. They have ranged from comments about my sexual orientation, insults about my wife and also my physical appearance. Now apart from any personal insults towards my family, any other comments made about me are, water off a ducks back. I hear an insult, I know who made the insult, I deal with the situation as necessary and like so many referees we take these insults as part and parcel of the game and just get on with it, only on two occasions have I been concerned for my safety. But there lies the problem, knowing you will be insulted and possibly be concerned for your safety should not be a part of being a referee.

The people I sometimes hear on the sidelines saying ‘I couldn’t be a ref, I couldn’t handle the insults’ are completely right they shouldn’t need to handle insults because they shouldn’t be receiving insults.

I know from my own experience that it is being instilled into the younger generations that respect for others is as apart of football as kicking a ball and I definitely see that working, so hopefully, maybe in the future we will have a much more tolerant approach towards officials. But the problem of a shortage of officials is here today, too many matches have been postponed this season due to a lack of referees. I would have thought that it would almost be a natural progression for footballers who come to the end of their playing career to either take up a coaching role or become a referee, like they do in Cricket.

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We should have pockets of referees in reserve ready to step in at the last minute to make sure a game goes ahead, but sadly we haven’t, we barely have enough to cover all the matches on a Saturday afternoon. Seeing that video over the weekend will do nothing to attract people into taking up refereeing, why should it? Nobody wants to go out on a Saturday or Sunday and end up the day in a hospital bed injured with your dignity taken away from you because people are laughing at you for being attacked. It’s a ‘happy slapping’ video for grown ups, it’s just humiliating.

But despite my critical approach to the treatment of referees, there are many teams and players who show respect towards the officials, lots of players and club officials I see around town will stop and chat about football stuff and that I like, it’s one of the reasons why I love refereeing, it’s a brilliant feeling knowing you’re an integral part of a game and an even better one when someone comes up to you and gives you a compliment about your performance, which does happens quite a lot. But the insults have to stop now.

People have to show a little respect to the man or woman in the middle, a game cannot happen without them and neither should they be bombarded week in, week out with abuse. It may not be the only reason why people give up refereeing or people don’t want to take it up, but it certainly is a big contributor as to why we have a shortage. We’ve seen it this season already the game is suffering because of it and at a time when interest in Welsh football has never been so higher we should be seeing more interest in people taking up the whistle.

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It’s a brilliant way to stay involved in football and for the sake of £20 and about eight hours of learning time it helps to keep your Saturdays football filled, as well as the added bonus of being paid to do it, something that you don’t find too often in a hobby.  It also, and this is probably mainly for the younger folks out there, if you apply yourself well to it and being in Wales, gives you a realistic oppurtunity to be apart of European football matches by becoming a FIFA official.

Frustration, high tension and excitement will always be apart of football, that nobody wants rid of and in turn it is expected that disagreements with some decisions will most definitely happen and that is fair enough, but that has to be it, a disapproving comment to a referee should not lead to a personal insult or a threat to their wellbeing. Surely we can cut that out immediately and attract more people into refereeing. I also hope the referee who was needlessly injured over the weekend makes a speedy recovery and carries on with refereeing, I hope he doesn’t decide enough is enough and hangs up his whistle for good.

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