You Are The Ref have stated before that, although we back the campaign against the abuse of match officials at all levels, we do not believe that a strike is the correct way of dealing with this problem. We would like to see the Football Association resurrect the Respect programme, and support it by issuing far more robust sanctioning procedures to those who are guilty of such abuse. There have been instances this month in professional football, where match officials have been physically handled, and the forthcoming punishments have not been severe enough.
When The FA Respect Programme was launched in 2008, The FA chief executive at the time Brian Barwick, who is now an FA council member said: “The Respect Programme is a top priority for The FA and the game as a whole”. Well if ever it is a priority, it is now!
During my time as FA National Referee Manager, I was fortunate enough to work with Dermot Collins, the FA Respect Manager. He was a fantastic man and someone who believed passionately in Respect and what it stood for. Dermot often banged his head against a brick wall and had little support from disciplinary committees and from the leadership who watered down the Respect Programme and reduced the budget year after year. The token captain’s armbands in FA Cup games and the odd advertising board at the various Cup Finals are not enough, more has to be done!
In the professional game, match officials often assume that they are safe and well protected. The various stewards, safety officers and police at the ground provide security and certainly up until this season, a physical act towards an official at the professional level was rare and if it occurred it was dealt with swiftly and firmly. Paulo Di Canio was hit with an eight game ban for pushing referee Paul Alcock in 1998 and David Prutton got ten games for manhandling Alan Wiley in 2005. However, in the past month there have been four instances of physical alterations with match officials and the punishments handed out so far have been weak and insufficient. Arsene Wenger was handed a four game touchline ban for pushing Anthony Taylor and Hope Akpan got the same suspension for pushing referee Scott Duncan. Last weekend Newport County player Mitch Rose struck the red card out of referee Trevor Kettle’s hand and this weekend Leandro Bacuna playing for Aston Villa initiated head to head contact with assistant referee Mark Russell. Both players have this week received the standard three match bans. What is clear already from the precedents set this season is that more has to be done to deter such behaviour.
I am proposing a 5 point plan in order to improve behaviour across the game;
- Any player or club official who puts their hands, feet or head on a match official should receive a minimum suspension of 10 matches
- The club should be deducted a minimum of 3 points when a match official is assaulted or excluded from the cup (depending on the competition the incident occurs in)
- The individual concerned should have to complete The FA Referees’ course and officiate a minimum of 5 games in the local Sunday League during their suspension period
- The PFA and/or LMA should publicly condemn the actions of the individual
- The Referees’ Association and Prospect Union should come out and publicly support the match officials
The Football Association has badly let down match officials across the game with the weak suspensions given out in these high profile incidents so far.
Prospect Union has said representations are being made and The PFA, LMA and Referees’ Association have said nothing so far. All of these organisations should start to support referees in the media and publicly, otherwise there will be even less officials coming through to the professional game when they see the examples set at the top levels.