Arjen Robben
Referees should be able to enjoy the game, not worry about being threatened, says Keith Hackett

I was very concerned to read that match officials who operate in the Thames Valley League withdrew their services and this resulted in 28 of the 32 fixtures across six divisions having no referee.

This is the result of incidents of threats and violence towards match officials, which of course is unacceptable.

Like players, club officials and spectators, referees also look forward to participating in football at the weekends – or at least they should be able to do that.

Two matches – the Premier Division clash between Highmoor Ibis Reserves and Taplow United, plus the Berks & Bucks Intermediate Cup clash between Winnersh Rangers against Westwood United – were abandoned within the last few weeks.

A player who has now been excluded from his club assaulted the referee in the Winnersh Rangers versus Westwood United match.

Now, the majority of match officials have withdrawn their services in order to send out a clear message that enough is enough.

The league has been left in no doubt by clubs and match officials that something needs to be done to improve match day behaviour.

The recruitment and retention of referees is not easy and officials must have the confidence that they can go to a game and achieve a sense of enjoyment, not the threat of an assault.

Under their rules, the league will, I know, have made every effort to try to eliminate this problem.

So here are some suggestion they may like to consider if they are not already in operation;-

< Introduce a fair play competition where match officials mark each competing club out of 10. The marks are compiled at the end of the season and an appropriate trophy awarded.

< Perhaps a social evening where referees and club officials can meet to have a discussion around player/club behaviour.

< Clubs to provide a referee officer at each game who is given the task of ensuring the safety of the match officials.

< Introduce ‘Get on with the game, get on with the referee, get on with each other’

Maybe the chairman and captain of each club could sign a charter underpinning that they will make every effort to promote fair play and respect towards opponents and match officials.

Arrange a meeting 30 minutes before the start for the chairman/secretary and captain of both teams to see the referee and exchange team sheets.

Whilst the laws of the game do not give the captain any additional responsibility other than at the toss of the coin, I suggest that referees involve the captains in the management process.

If a player is beginning to show signs of indiscipline then call the captain and the player over and issue the words of advice. I would suggest that referees use the line ‘I want to see an improvement.’

This does not issue any threat or warning but offers clear instructions on what you require.

I wish the referees and the league every success in overcoming this current situation and for everyone involved in the game to start getting the enjoyment back into their participation.