Poor behaviour towards referees has been one of the biggest issues facing grassroots football in the last decade.
The Football Association launched the Respect programme in 2008 in a bid to stop a sharp decline in the number of grassroots referees, but confidence in the programme at grassroots level has dwindled.
Last season ex-referees’ chief Keith Hackett criticised the FA for allowing the Respect programme to “fizzle out” – a view backed up by 75 percent of Club Website members – while a report by The Telegraph newspaper revealed 94 percent of football referees experience verbal abuse, with one in five the victims of a physical attack.
One of the those victims has had enough. In three years as a referee in Manchester, 18-year-old Ryan Hampson has been punched, head-butted, pushed, spat at, verbally abused and threatened.
Sick of the abuse, Hampson has called a nationwide referees’ strike on the weekend of 4-5 March and, helped by national media coverage, is reported to have the support of over 800 referees with over five weeks still to go.
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) January 24, 2017
The FA has announced that the Respect programme will be relaunched next month, seeking to revitalise the programme at all levels of the game at a time when the spotlight is firmly back on the issue.
Former Notts County manager John Sheridan was last month handed a five-game touchline ban by the FA for an expletive-laden attack on officials in his side’s 2-0 defeat at Wycombe Wanderers on 10 December.
Details of the referee’s report have been published, laying bare the abuse that top-level officials receive and backing up the tough sanction from the FA.
Attention now turns to their treatment of Arsene Wenger, who has been charged with misconduct following Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Burnley at The Emirates on Sunday.
An FA statement alleges that Wenger used “abusive and/or insulting words” towards fourth official Anthony Taylor and that his behaviour having been dismissed from the technical area, which included “making physical contact with the fourth official”, amounted to improper conduct.
Wenger apologised for his behaviour straight after the game and has until tomorrow [26 January] to appeal against the charge, but a touchline ban is expected.
With their own Respect programme set to be relaunched next month and bad behaviour towards officials at all levels of the game back in the spotlight, we await to see what example the FA sets to grassroots football managers with their punishment for one of the game’s most high profile names.