Who is responsible for referees getting Respect?

Respect for referees has been back on the national agenda this week.

FA figures reported by BBC Radio 5 Live revealed that there have been 330 assaults on referees by amateur footballers in England so far this season, an increase of 27% on last year.

The figures, taken at the end of February, show that the most serious assaults were down from eight last year to three so far this season, but incidents of causing or attempting to cause bodily harm were up from 47 to 53 over the same period.

Most frequent were common assaults, which went up from 205 incidents last year to 276 this year.

Common assault includes barging and pushing – the sort of behaviour that is often seen on a football pitch, but not usually towards referees.

Whilst the FA are “concerned” at the figures, they have been keen to point out that, with 35,000 matches happening in England every weekend, assaults of this nature are still extremely rare.

“I deplore any assault on a referee, but we’ve got to say that this isn’t the experience of most referees in this country,” said Dermot Collins, the FA’s Respect Manager.

“We surveyed 4,000 referees across 15,000 games this season and they mark their experiences as four out of five. Most referees have a great experience of the game.”

“When we launched the Respect programme two and half seasons ago we always acknowledged we were up against a pretty significant problem.

“We were looking to change some pretty well established and engrained poor behaviour and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Indeed, FA statistics published this January show a 29% increase in the number of male referees (26,889) and a 31% increase in the number of female referees (853) involved in the national game since the Respect programme was introduced in 2008.

Statistics also show that dissent cautions across the top four divisions of English football we were down by 9% in 2009-10 compared to the season before.

Whether that figure represents a true reduction in dissent or an increased level of tolerance from referees in the professional game is a point of debate.

Indeed, some observers believe that poor behaviour in the grassroots game will not be fully addressed while professional players and managers continue to set a bad example.

“I recognise that,” said Collins, “but we don’t see referees being chased around the car park at The Emirates or Old Trafford.

“The power of example in the professional game is very, very powerful, but when we talk about assaults on referees, that is not happening in the professional game. I think it’s one of those issues that grassroots football has got to look at.”

Premier League players shouting at referees may foster a culture of disrespect throughout football – while media hype and analysis around refereeing mistakes does little to help – but do those of us involved at the grassroots have a right to moan about the professional game unless we also do our part?

This is our game, so shouldn’t we all have a responsibility for our own behaviour and that of our team mates?  Collins certainly believes so.

“I work for the FA but I’m also a coach, I’m a team captain, I’m a club chairman and, in all of those roles, I’ve got a chance to influence the way that people behave towards referees. That’s really what we’ve got to do throughout football.”

Have your say: just who is responsible for improving respect to refs?

With the issue of Respect back on the agenda, we want to hear from you. Who do you think is responsible for ensuring that referees get the respect they deserve?

What examples of good practice have you seen at grassroots level to help improve respect?  What can we do ourselves to ensure that officials are treated correctly?  And if someone at your football club pushed a referee how would they be dealt with by the club?

Is the issue of respect at grassroots level one for the grassroots game to address on its own? Or does the example of the professional game have a part to play?

Will poor behaviour ever be eradicated in the amateur game whilst it exists in the professional ranks?  Rugby referees’ authority is never questioned, so why can’t football follow their example?

So many questions on a big issue for the grassroots game, so we want to hear from you. Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Back to March’s edition of The Club House >>

Dan Pope on LinkedinDan Pope on Twitter
Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

Take the hassle out of organising your sports team with Teamer. Organise, communicate and take payments.


  1. Kevin Williams on March 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Sometimes – just occasionally – it’s the fault of the referees themselves who are simply too lenient with those that abuse them. Often these people are those on the touchline, and if they were dealt with as soon asthey began the abuse and intimidation they might begin to get the message. I appreciate it’s a really difficult job at times, I’ve done it and often wondered why. But if referees could begin the crackdown themselves it would be a start. Of course the majority of the emphasis is on us, as coaches, players and spectators – but a tougher approach from our officials would also help. Best wishes to everyone officiating this weekend!

  2. Brian Radford on March 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    The only way to get respect for referees is to come down very hard on the player(s) involved and also on the clubs themselves because it is the only way to get across the message that any abuse will not be tolerated.

  3. Ashley Banner on March 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I was playing in a game on Saturday, in the Mid Com Div 1, to me quite a good standard of football. Unfortunatly mid way through the second half the ref gave a free kick, against a one of our players which i questioned what for and was told to “shut my f*****g mouth” to which i was gob smacked. Only after the game listening to my team mates, one was told “dont talk to me”, another was insulted when he misplaced a pace “the ref called him dog s**t” and then you get members of the Fa asking us to respect the ref…..how can you respect anyone who talks to you like that?

  4. Paul Ross-Gardner on March 31, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I am an Age Group Manager working at a Community Standard Club. I am also CWO.
    I agree that you can’t divorce the behaviour of professionals (all too often diabolical) from the emulation I see from some young players. Neither can you expect children to play the game in the right manner, when baying packs of parents want to win at all costs. On Saturday, an opposing parent was overheard congratulating her son after beating my team. Her words – “Well done son, I told you to kick their ankles.” His behaviour throughout the game was not nice to witness, but with that kind of role model, it was no surprise.
    Intimidation of Referees, especially those who are children themselves, must stop. It must be enforced from Top Down, by use of discipline from the FA, retrospectively if necessary, i.e. LONG bans for the worst offenders. Only then will the Managers take action against their players. The same message must come all the way down to mini-soccer. I’d also like to see the 10 m retreat rule brought in for dissent, i.e. as in Rugby.
    Positive things I try to encourage. I always speak to opposing parents before a game to let them know what my expectations are for their behaviour. I thank them after the game for adhering to this (mostly true). I also insist that as part of shaking hands, ALL the players give the Referee 3 cheers, irrespective of the standard he/she may have performed to. Easy with 9 years olds, but I hope it sets the tone for later years. I also try to leave the opposing players with some positive comments, especially if I don’t think they’re getting the right sort of feedback from their own coaches.
    Small actions can seed big changes!

  5. Graham Skuse on March 31, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    If a club at amature level recieves a fine it is probably in the region of £20/50, in the clubhouse after a saturday fixture two football cards will cover the cost therefore at ALL lwevels of the game deduct points for a couple of months and see how that works, that having been said we as referees have to EARN respect it is not our god given right.

  6. Peter Hughes on March 31, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    As they so often do the FA got it wrong, they started at the bottom instead of starting with the big boys at the top. Put them in their place and the rest will follow. Children see the things they get away with and think it is okay for them to do the same.
    The FA will never learn they think they now it all in fact they now very little.

  7. Anthony Phillips on March 31, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I referee my son’s league – under 15 years. I did the full referee course and am now a qualified referee. I frequently suffer abuse from the coaches on the touchline. If this serious I produce a White Paper report to the league. However, in the majority of cases it technically doesn’t warrant a report. It is typically “you’re rubbish ref”, “he was a mile off side” etc etc. Invariably this is said in close proximity and certainly all the players hear it. It is difficult to try and let the game flow without rising to the banter but keeping it in order when the abusive shouting becomes of an aggresive nature. The trouble is you can lip read what premiership players say on Match of the Day and hear after match interviews with top coaches who regularly criticise rubbish referees even at Premiership level. At lower league levels, players and coaches therefore think they have a licence to criticise, abuse, scream and shout. It happens at just about every game I referee or watch. I know a number of people who just will not referee anymore. I can think of numerous more enjoyable things to do on a Saturday.

    When my son moves up to senior football I have already decided to hang up my boots.

  8. dave Privett on March 31, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Respect has to start while the players are young, 8 year olds and younger can be seen to appeal for balls they know arnt theirs, i,ve had kids deny the ball has hit their arm, even though the ball print is quite visible!

    The answers, stand on young kids while they can still change and then keep them there, my kids know they will be pulled off for unsporting behavour never mind physical abuse, the upshot is my lads help the ref, if the ball hits them and goes off for a corner they will admit it.

    Having said that for the proffesional game the governing bodies should be able to retrespectively dock points for blatent cheating, verbal abuse etc whether the ref has seen it or not.
    If man utd were docked three points because Fergies gobbed off again hed soon stop, if he carried on more points go easy, Rugby isnt different because the players are different its different because punishments exist and with that a culture of respect is born

  9. Graham Skuse on March 31, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I read with surprise the comments that the referee is alleged to have passed to our colleague Ashley, were the alleged comments reported to the local F A and was there any comeback on them? comments of this type must be given to the local F A if they do not act on them then Ashley has a case.

  10. Ross Walters on March 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I once played in a Middx Cup final and leading 2-1 thought that silverware was on the cards until the referee played an additional 16 Minutes ( yes 16 minutes! of added time before we conceeded in the 16th minute, .. we lost on penalties after extra time.

    The referee did not have the common decency to explain why he played the additional time which could have only equated to 4-5 Minutes MAX!.

    All i can say is if i saw that referee today i would chin him. Just saying.

  11. Andrew Gilroy on March 31, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I believe all member clubs should be advised that all players attend a Laws of the Game seminar.
    I am a club chairman, player, FA Coach and Referee and find that many players, both at Grassroots and Adult level do not know the laws of the game.

    My own club have conducted Laws of the game seminars for players and parents and have a number of FA Referees within the club.

    Under the FA Chartered Standard banner, I would recommend that the Laws of the Game certificate is included in the criteria of becoming one.

  12. Martin Johnson on March 31, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I agree with Ashley respect goes both ways and i had one of my U12 players upset when the ref refused to shake his hand at the end of a game.

  13. John Kenny on March 31, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    As said previous to get respect you must gain respect. How many times have we seen a ref, at all levels, do the ‘old school master’ and beckon a player over to him? surely common sense must prevail and the ref should at least move half way towards the player and then sort out the issues. You then also get a player whose form goes before him, only for the ref to say ‘i’m watching you son’ its a new game nothing that happened last week, month or year should be taken into account, come on refs MOVE ON!!

  14. Ron Bunce on March 31, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    The respect campaign im afraid is a farce and it will not inprove until the prima donnas are brought to task, every week you see on match of the day and the football league show countless players swearing cursing at the referee and until the FA do indeed clamp down with heavy match bans as well as heavy fines (not just pocket money amounts ) I also agree with a previous comment in that referees (premier division) included should start being more zero tolerant and you would still see managers complaining but after a short while the message would get through and filter down to grass roots level where I have refereed for 35 years and its becoming increasingly difficult when local/youth players see the Mr Rooney’s & Co swearing and cursing right in their face and not acting on it, dont tell me they haven’t heard it so why is it different at Old Trafford than the local village green, good reffin to all my colleagues this weekend dont forget managers, coaches,players & spectators us refs are only human we make mistakes but I bet not as many as each play does.

  15. Dave Barrow on March 31, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    As an ex referee, now time expired, I always felt I had no right to respect, it had to be earned by a combination of personality, man management, ability and authority. Authority was the main thing…the players knew how far they could go.
    Now they see the untouchable premiership players getting away with foul verbal abuse, diving and recently some awful tackles. How can you respect referees who do nothing about this.
    I recently saw an assistant referee award a goal in a division 2 game when the ball clearly had not crossed the line. The players response was impeccable but the League seems to have done nothing about the assistant so there is a large feeling amongst fans that referees and assistants are not held responsible for their errors. Again how can you respect that sort of official ?

  16. Dave Barrow on March 31, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Referees need to stop demanding respect and get out there and earn it. Too often we see the big names getting away with things because the referee is frightened of upsetting the clubs at seniors level…how else can some of the recent decisions, or lack thereof, be explained.
    Make referees/assistants responsible for explaining their decisions and publicise the assessors opinion in summary so that the fans can see that the FA is at least trying to get rid of the more incompetent ones.
    We recently had an assistant give a goal in a Div 2 match when the ball had clearly not crossed the line….it has been impossible to find out if the League did anything about it and the air of secrecy detracts from any respect.
    At more Junior levels it is very difficult to control the crowd and some abuse “goes with the territory” as a correct decision is still against one team. Perhaps the onus should be put on the clubs to control this with assessors marking the clubs for their efforts in reducing abusive behaviour by fans. Awards for good conduct are not as efffective as penalties for bad

  17. Paul Williams on March 31, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    The Respect Campaign is a miscalculation, because the only way things can improve is for both ends of football, the Juniors and the Professional levels to be brought to task at the same time. Respect from all areas (Parents, team officials and players) should be clamped down at an earlier age and at the highest level. On the professional side of the game, heavy match bans should be handed out with heavy club fines for poor control of their players. Young players shouldn’t see swearing and cursing at match officials without seeing the punishment handed out for the offence. For the match officials I do believe that they should show more communication skills to the players (like the good old days) and as highlighted previously zero tolerant for abusive behaviour, as like the Rugby match officials.

  18. Keith R on March 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    It seems that players, coaches, parents are only ‘willing’ to respect football referees only if they have ‘perfect’ games. Even on this page people are justifying why referees don’t deserve their respect, based on a single perceived incorrect decision that was made.

    At the grass roots level all the way through most amateur leagues the referee should be given the basic respect for the fact that they provide an essential service to the game. They have taken the time and effort to pass increasingly difficult tests (rules of the game and physical). As much as anyone else, they manifest a level of commitment TO THE GAME, putting themselves through the mental and physical wringer once or more most weekends.

    In return, if a referee has a less than perfect game they become fair game to one and all. Yes some referees have ‘stinkers’ just like players do. However everyone has become an armchair refereeing expert. This is fed by the over analysis of every single decision in every single game on TV. There is also the pervasive feeling that people have the right to heckle the ref – often progressing quickly from “good natured banter” to verbal (and sometimes sadly physical) abuse. As others have said, players are also heavily influenced on what people see the pros doing (and getting away with).

    The two-way street aspect of respect is that people in the game will give referees an even greater level of respect when they are the masters of their craft.

    I think there is a disconnect between what referees are being instructed to do and what players think referees should call. In fact it amazes me that so many people involved in the game do not have an understanding of the application of the basic laws. Someone suggested that players/coaches take the referee course/exam. I think that may be a little extreme but I have seen teams take this step. This gap could also be closed by having local referees meet with each team before the start of a season and discuss the application of the laws of the game. In addition to the educational benefits, players will discover that referees are thoughtful proponents of the game and will understand their role better. At the highest levels referees should indeed be more forthcoming about why decisions were made and indeed admit to ‘human error’ when appropriate.

    My two cents.

  19. john crossan on March 31, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    i am since retired as a scottish football referee of which i officiated for a period of 25 years the replies from previous comments are certainly valid in my opinion the basis of the laws of the game are that there are 17 laws of which the most important is rule 18 common sense which is not practiced at any level it always pays to earn respect by you as the official knowing what you are doing before even going onto playing field and in turn speaking to a player on the field of play explaining the reason for the descision being made not by ignoring the person concerned as seems to be the norm in most cases best wishes to all in this lovely game

  20. peter on March 31, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Start at the top, start booking and sending off proffesional players when they swear and abuse the referee. It will help improve park football and the standards will improve. At the moment it is seen to be ok to swear at the referee at every decision and get away with it

  21. Andy on March 31, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Teams like Man Utd (Rooney) who constantly demonstrates Offensive, insulting or abusic language (OFFINBUS) toward referees who do nothing about – this siuation takes 2. It’s the Rooneys of the prem and the referee’s who choose not to take action. I would have no problem with sending players who demonstrate this behaviour, these are who are responsible for grass root level referee’s (like myself) who are assaulted.

  22. Luke Broughton on March 31, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    I agree with the comment about starting from the top with proffessional clubs….however that is saying that a persons actions are not accountable. As for grass roots level, if you assault a ref, then you should have a life time ban. For anyone consistant in abusing refs, they should be made to attend a respect programme before they can participate in Saturday/Sunday league again. This would send a clear message out and such a course could be beneficial to the cause. As a manager of a Sunday league team, i find some of my players sometimes becoming abusive (not violently, but verbally). One of my players found himself sidelined for being aggressive on the pitch and remained there until he learnt his lesson – which he has. managers have to take some responsibility, however, as I said there needs to be worthy programmes to sit for those who just don’t seem to get the message.

  23. shuggie on March 31, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    I dont know about refs at amatuer level, but at youth level some refs bring trouble to the game by strutting about the field like little hitlers. Others take the time to explain to the boys why they made a decision and once explained the boys accept it. After all these kids are just learning the game and rules. Some refs i have seen in over 40 years involved in youth football do not seem to know the rules.

  24. shuggie on March 31, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    In the case of respect it is a two way thing, to get respect you have to give respect, this is in every walk of life not just the playing field.

  25. jim hughes on April 1, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Having played my youth soccer in the UK and played state soccer and coached at national level in Australia my opinion it is all about attitude and yes ,respect. It is interesting to note that in Aussie Rules if a foul is committed, the person who committed the foul after the whistle has occured for an offence, if he has the ball, he actually gives the ball to the person taking the free kick. How about that then! Game goes on and the referee moves on. Admittedly, the person who has committed the foul may use a bit of “mouth’, but the ref. can take the ball upfield, if he persists. So what happens is, the ball is given to side who have been offended against, promptly on all occasions. Result, no referee (or in this case umpire) issues.
    In a game of football we all know you win some and you lose some.

  26. Graham Skuse on April 1, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Over here in Guernsey my referees award marks to the clubs on a scale of one to five on certain sections of the match, players behavious, coach behaviour, spectators behaviour and the overall behaviour pattern.

    We are lucky, perhaps not lucky because we went out and found a sponsor by the name of Specsavers, who have donated rather a lot of money to help us.

    The sponsor added that she wanted the money to go to the players who earned it and not simply fed into the clubs general fund therefore at the end of each month a ‘club team’ wins jackets and kit to the tune of £500 00 emblazened with specsavers/respect on it, this is working.

    As the Referees Development Officer on the island I see a lot of youth football and without a shadow of a doubt some coach’s are very aware of the scheme.

    Are there sponsors in your area?

    Graham Skuse
    Guernsey Channel Islands

  27. jeff irving on April 1, 2011 at 9:00 am

    i coach mini soccer from 7 to 10 y.o and i also reff games.
    It has yaken me many years to acheive the reputationand respect I now have and it has been earned not demanded.
    I will not tolerate abuse of any form from players and parents .I make it plain to any coach that if a child shows dissent then will be substituted for a cooling off perioid.if the coach does not cooperate then the person will be yellow carded,as yet in 10 years i have never had to do it.as for parents i offer them the chance to reff the games themselves,if they think they can do better.or if it becomes too confrontatonal i mention i have the authority to have them or /and their children removed from the ground,or if playing for one of my teams then the club,and like before in 10 years i have never had to do this.on the other hand i am prepared to listn to criticism and will gladly hold my hand up and apologise if I make a mistake.and allways explain my decisions to
    the children .loud enough for the parents to hear.I beleive respect has to installed into children as early as possible.

  28. Nicola McColm on April 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Manager Open Age Ladies Football Team
    I agree that referees have a very difficult job, however like many have stated before respect is a two way thing. Where is the protection for my players, coach and myself when challenged re: decision making or requesting explaination for the decion making. You are told go away don’t talk to me which leads to further frustration and intensifies the situation. I had a referee introduce himself to my team and inform them they could swear if they want just don’t screech the length of the pitch at him. This was his opening words, he made numerous shady decisions but team kept working hard, then when final whistle is blown and some players approach him for a rationale , his words i make shit decisions you are a shit player. How can i protect my players from this behaviour, but referee can quickly tar your reputation handing out red cards and fines when they need to accept responsibility for their own mistakes. That would gain them far more respect rather than an abuse of power. The system is unfair and biased in favour of the referees.

  29. neil stephenson on April 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    All i say is look at Rugby as a shining example of how high levels of discipline from all players coaches and supporters allow matches to take place without any problems what so ever. Only the Captain can talk to the Referee and he is allways refered to as “Sir”. This is achieved by kids at the earliest age being groomed to respect the Referee. In the pro game the officials are miked up and the tv audience can hear how the Referees and players alike all communicate. I would love to see this brought into football as this might curb some of the shocking behaviour by players that are meant to be role models for our kids!
    Also the Referees in football appear to have a certain “pomp” attitude. T

  30. Graham Skuse on April 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    As a born and bred ‘Taff’ I have a great feeling for Rugby as my second sport, but a couple of weeks ago the sport came down in my estimation, firstly my native Wales cheated to beat Ireland, on the same weekend over here in Guernsey the headlines were ‘I did it for the team’ meaning that the forward had collapsed the scrum deliberately to eventually win the game, of course there was recently the ‘bloodgate’ issue, so whilst the players may not swear at the referee they obviously have no ‘RESPECT’for the laws.

    Graham Skuse

  31. Martin Ball on April 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I think Respect starts at the FA and until such time as they clamp down on Professional players and Managers giving Match Officials abuse by word or action, it is not going to filter down. It is a however unfortunate that Match Officials do not Send Off or Caution players who use Abusive, Offensive or Insulting language but it could be that they either do not hear it or in their opinion it is not an Abusive, Offensive or Insulting action. I also feel the FA are not portraying the right image in endorsing e-mail’s (which have actually been sent to grassroots Match Officials) by referring to those who do not adhere to the Respect Campaign as ‘idiots’ and ‘gobby morons’ .This does not help in any way and will only fuel the actions of offenders

  32. BIG AL on April 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    get a member from clubs to go the first local RA MEETINGS .for rule changes and what is expected from THE RESPECT

  33. Vera Hemingway on April 10, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I think respect starts with managers and players, top professional players get paid millions to play, youth team players only copy what they do. Swearing etc should not be tolerated on the pitch and more punishment should be given to palyers who do this, professional or youth.

  34. big al on April 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    its about time the fa clamped down on swearing in the premier league .you can not get away with it in the local league,s on aweekend .its seem,s one set of rules for the premier and another for grassroots football .

  35. Gary Taylor on November 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Respect earned through fear ( of harsh financial penalties ) is not respect in the true sense of the word.
    Respect also does not just manifest itself overnight – how many clubs in deprived areas have been put out of business by League / Council / FA disciplinary fines ? does anyone know or care ? – if there is no respect then it has to be taught like everything else but if teaching respect costs financially then clubs will continue to go out of business especially in areas where arguably the kids need it most !

  36. longscrew177 on November 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    My daughter plays u10’s football and at times i’m shocked at the level of referees competence, i understand at grass root football level ref’s need to let certain things go, but i’ve witnessed young players being taught bad practices such as using their elbows and using their arms in a high and dangerous fashion, the ref did warn players as the game went on but never gave a free kick against them, when you question the ref on why he never gave a free kick his reply was he did not want to be reported to the fa for being seen to be bias towards a certain team even though the oppersition were making bad tackles and at times dangerous practices. This is not acceptable that ref’s should be their to uphold the rules and protect players from harm, not to worry about if they are seen to be impartial.

  37. asad on August 19, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    thank you

Join the discussion