The sport of football never fails to get people talking. And one constant talking point is refereeing. It’s normally about contentious decisions in the Premier League or EFL. Or perhaps more recently it’s VAR that’s taken centre-stage in many discussions about the state of the game.

One thing that arguably should be talked about more often is the treatment of referees, especially at grassroots level. We’ve all seen it, we’ve all heard it. And if you’re involved in Sunday league football then you probably hear it every weekend. Unfortunately it’s almost become part of the background noise of every game and not many would even bat an eyelid at it.

This has to stop and we reckon it’s time for a rethink. Remember, referees at amateur level are rarely making a living from it. They are humans and they make mistakes. Many of them will have no assistants or anyone running the line to lend them a hand. None of them have VAR. If the rest of us make an honest mistake at work, we don’t expect to be abused or sworn at, so why should they? And remember, if there’s no ref, there’s no game.

To get the views of one of the men in the middle, we got in touch with Michael Bewick who is a level 7 referee in the North East of England. He also founded RefShout, an anti-abuse campaign created by referees, for referees. He wants all of those involved in football to speak up when they hear abuse.

college cup referees

Where does the abuse of referees stem from?

“The main issue facing us referees is the modern professional game, seen predominantly in the Premier League. There is a stigma against referees that if a decision goes the wrong way it’s all hell on. And sadly this is passed down to the lowest level of which is grassroots which in hindsight makes the referees decision making extremely difficult. That’s not just because players are taking on that stigma, it’s the parents and sadly some coaches. 

It is becoming a bigger problem and the consequences for abusing referees are little to none, in my personal opinion. These issues are sadly cutting our referee population and are stopping those who had planned on becoming a match official.”

Why don’t we see this in other sports?

“There are higher sanctions and repercussions in other sports. In rugby, if you disrespect an official that’s an automatic sin-bin for 10 minutes. In football we have seen this sin-bin approach but I feel officials are too hesitant to send someone off as they have to face the coaches and players afterwards. 

From a coaching point, in rugby they are already away from the field of play in a control box so they are unable to hinder the referee. In football it is practically impossible for this to happen due to the history of the game, and then sadly the fourth official has to have an earful every game. 

Another factor of why you do not see this in rugby is because clubs place focus around respecting decisions and officials, and especially from a young age.”

What’s the solution?

“Those who are guilty of abusing referees should be banned for a certain term depending on the severity. And governing bodies should create a stronger campaign describing the consequences of their actions. Clubs should have zero-tolerance to any abuse, and if they do not uphold that policy then action should be taken. 

The FA are taking steps but these steps are small and still so far from the ideal playing situation.”


Massive thanks to Michael for taking the time to chat to us about the current state of play with refereeing. Follow his campaign on Twitter @Ref_Shout

And remember, if you’re witness to anything that oversteps the line at your game this weekend,  as Michael says – “hear it, experience it, report it”.

Be part of the solution, not the problem.

How useful was this post?

Average rating 4.2 / 5. Vote count: 5

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.