England Under 21 manager Stuart Pearce joined The FA and the Football Foundation today to combat one of the biggest challenges facing football at all levels: unacceptable behaviour on the pitch and from the sidelines.
The Under 21 boss was joined Richard Stearman and Martin Cranie from his squad along with Premier League referee Howard Webb to launch a £1 million Football Foundation initiative promoting the Respect programme’s Designated Spectator Area Barriers.
The 'Respect Barriers’, as they are more commonly known, will ensure that there is a demarcated area along the touchlines at grassroots football matches, within which spectators must stay.
The Football Foundation is providing £1m towards the scheme which means that junior football leagues signed up to the Respect programme can purchase the Respect Barriers at 50% of their retail price.
Grassroots junior football leagues from across England that are committed to the Respect programme have until 31 March to order the barriers on behalf of member clubs at a special discounted price from their local County FA. Leagues should contact their County FA for more details.
Over 350 leagues are now signed up to the Respect programme, which last season saw the Respect Barriers piloted in 20 counties across England. FA Respect Manager, Dermot Collins, was delighted with the feedback from the pilot:
"It showed that the barriers are an effective but inexpensive way of improving spectator behaviour and, as a consequence, a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved."
There are almost 70,000 youth football teams in the country and England Under-21 boss, Stuart Pearce, is right behind the Barrier campaign:
"I learnt my football in the non-League game and I fully support the Respect measures being introduced to tackle abuse in grassroots football" said Pearce.
"Refereeing is a tough job at any level and refs deserve to be treated with respect by players, coaches and spectators. I'm sure leagues and clubs will want to sign up for the barriers to help improve behaviour and encourage people of all ages to get involved in refereeing."
Howard Webb is also in no doubt that the Respect Barriers will boost the grassroots game. "It's a positive step and ensures that players can play and referees can referee unhindered by outside influences" said Webb. "The barriers also give spectators a clearly defined area to offer support and to enjoy their experience of the game too."
Football Foundation Chief Executive Paul Thorogood (picture left) said: "It is essential that everyone is able to enjoy our national game and that people, especially youngsters, are not put off by unacceptable language and behaviour.
"By teaming up with The FA and providing £1m towards these new Respect Barriers, the Football Foundation is helping to create an environment where everyone can feel safe and comfortable at the grass roots level of football, whether it is a Sunday league team or a little league team."
Club Website reported on the issue of behaviour in grassroots football back in November 2007. The article, published in our monthly newsletter The Club House, featured Don't X The Line (DXTL), a grassroots football campaign designed to tackle this very issue.
Since it's launch in 2003, DXTL have advocated the use of touchline barriers to keep angry parents off the field of play. They have since developed and sold barriers for clubs to purchase and, although the FA have now developed their own brand of barrier, campaign founder Mal Lee is pleased to see that the idea has been taken on board at the top of the English game.
"It's great news for us," Lee told Club Website today. "This means that behaviour should improve in football across the country. Whatever is written on the barrier, it's all about improving respect, and that's what our campaign has always been about."