Referee Howard Webb believes that the Respect campaign that was introduced by the English FA last August has made a significant difference to the game in England.
The programme has not only seen an improvement in behaviour towards referees in the professional game, but also in the crucial area of grassroots football and Webb believes that it can only be for the good of the game in the future.
“I think that the Respect programme was fully justified and brought in at the right time,” revealed the South Yorkshire based official.
“It was needed because I know we were in the position whereby something like 7,000 referees were walking away from the game each year and that means that something had to be wrong.
“Therefore, The FA were quite right in doing something about it and making an effort to improve behaviour in the game. From my experience with the games that I’ve been involved in, player behaviour has been markedly better.
“Not everyone will agree with that, but that’s just a honestly held belief that I have from my games when, by and large, the behaviour of players towards referees has been better. We haven’t seen the surrounding of the match officials in the same way that we have in years gone by and the common open dissent doesn’t seem to be there.
“Of course there are some cases and people will be able to point the finger at certain individuals who still behave in that way, but on the whole the interaction with the players I have had has been good and they seem to be aware of the importance of looking after the image of the game and embracing the Respect programme.”
It isn’t just working at the top end of the sport either, as Webb himself has seen the positive effect that it has had upon the grassroots level.
Having helped with local referee development in South Yorkshire and experienced working his way up through the different levels of the game, Webb is positive on the future for officials across the country.
“The County FAs are all rolling out the Respect campaign to everybody locally and the referees at grassroots levels are aware of the programme and I think it’s really important,” he added.
“There are other things like safety levels for match officials too. It’s okay for me going to Old Trafford, Anfield or the Emirates Stadium because my safety is looked after by other people, but when you go out there as a newly qualified, 18-year-old referee to a park pitch and an open-aged game, you’re on your own.
“You need to be confident that you’ll be treated in the correct way by those teams, so it’s crucially important that these messages are received at the grassroots level of the game.
“I’d like to make the point that whilst I’ve been involved in refereeing over 19 years, I’ve had vast amounts of enjoyment without any problems nearly all of the time and I know that’s true for most people.
“Most games pass without incident and the players, coaches, parents or whoever are respectful and behave in a correct and proper manner and enjoy their part in the game.”
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