Why There Is a Lack of Support for Football Referees at Lower Level Football

Many people will watch a football match to support their favourite teams and enjoy the experience as a way of enhancing their interest in the beautiful game. And that is rightly so, football is a wonderful game that is enjoyed all around the world.

It is without doubt that football is the most popular sport in the world, which is backed up when over 1 billion people around the world tuned in to watch the 2014 World Cup final. The viewing figures of the recent final, which took place in Russia, is yet to be determined but is expected to be on par. To put this into perspective, 70% of households worldwide have access to a TV meaning that roughly 1 in 5 TVs were viewing the World Cup final. These are extraordinary numbers.

Just because this beautiful game is recognised by everyone, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t weaknesses to the game. A weakness that not many people recognise is the support given out to referees. As a referee myself, I never knew what they faced every game and I believe that not many people will understand what they face. I do not blame people for not understanding their struggles as refereeing is all about mental strength.

As previously mentioned, over a billion people enjoy the beautiful game without realising that none of that would be possible without officials officiating the game, whatever the level of football.

Looking at a game of football, you have two sets of teams that face each other on the pitch. That is their only job. Managers and coaches assist each other in managing the team. Fans support and cheer their team. That is the standardisation of football. You could argue that my view is biased when I describe coaching and playing to be an easy job. I should make that clear that is not what I think. I believe it is challenging. I have been in both positions myself, as have many people. However, not as many people have been in the position of the referee. The referee’s job is more than just controlling the game; it is handling everything from the moment teams step on the pitch for warm-ups until the players step back upon the team coach to go home. Nobody credits referees for ensuring that a game runs smoothly. Officiating the game is only a small part of their job and that alone takes a lot of strength to handle.

The only thing that referees have to support them in their job is their own self confidence. It is a stressful job having to take responsibility for everything that happens during that time period of pre-match preparation, the 90 minutes of football played and the post-match jobs. For some parts of this time they will be assisted by coaches and fellow officials, if the level of football requires a minimum of a referee and two assistant referees. Below that level of football, there is only very small amounts of support and assistance given to the referee.

Not many people will know the process of what happens before and after a football match, whilst knowing what the referee has to do. Before the match, the referee must determine whether the playing conditions are fit for play, as well as ensure faults with the playing field are dealt with. If not deemed to be appropriate for the game, the referee must inform both sets of teams that the match is cancelled and will then go on to report the problem to his/her local county FA. If the pitch is appropriate, the referee will then proceed to clear the pitch to ensure it is clear of any litter and/or anything else that may affect the players when the match is in progress. The referee then proceeds to assist managers and coaches in setting up nets and corner flags before the game. Shortly after that, they will take in each team’s starting line-ups shortly before the game. After that, they check the players’ kits. When this entire process is completed, the referee will begin the game. That is only the easy part of the job. The challenging part is within the game itself and having to take control of post-match tasks.

The referee will never know what type of game they will be about to officiate. It could be open football or it could be foul after foul. Nobody knows. The only thing that the referee knows is that nobody is on their side. Whatever decision they make, there will always be somebody who does not agree and it is from that moment on why refereeing becomes a mental strength job. People will disagree and they will retaliate in one form or another. Players may retaliate by getting into the referee’s face, where that itself is intimidating. That itself is what makes the referee’s self confidence the only factor supporting them and their actions. Does their mental strength and self confidence allow them to punish that player? Or would it make them fear what would happen next? What makes a good referee is mental toughness, not their knowledge on the laws of the game. Without mental toughness they are not able to implant the laws of the game. When you have supporters shouting abuse and players and managers making the game hard to officiate, the referee still depends themselves on their mental strength. It is for this reason that referees lack support. Everybody makes mistakes. It is human error. You wouldn’t get in somebody’s face or shout abuse in public. I know you wouldn’t. So what makes it okay for it to happen on a football pitch?

Beyond this is what happens after the game. It is now within the referee’s hands to report inappropriate behaviour, the match outcome, bans etc. to the county FA and the competition the match was played in. Yet again, no assistance.

The FA and other football governing bodies focus so much on higher level football that lower level football almost seems neglected. Thousands of referees stop officiating games because they cannot cope with the stress and the battle they face mentally. They need more support from governing bodies and authorities. They cannot keep charging high prices for football games and not be able to provide vital support for people at the centre of the game. It wouldn’t be explainable for them to say the are unable to do so. It would be inhumanely for them to say that directly in front everyone. Not enough is done to help referees and at this point in time. That doesn’t look as if it is going to change, either.