Parent threatened Sunday league referee at kids' match in Chesterfield
A Sunday league referee was threatened by a parent in front of children at a youth football match in Chesterfield.
The Sheffield and District Junior Sunday Football League-registered official was taking charge of an under-16s game when the incident took place on Sunday.
Later in the day, at an under-18s match in Worksop, the same referee needed an escort to the car park following further threats after accusations of bias.
Meanwhile, a 15-year-old referee was left in tears on Saturday following an argument with the manager of an under-11 girls team in Dronfield, who was unhappy with a decision he made.
"I just want a referee to be able to go to a game and feel safe, especially young referees or newly qualified refs,” said Simon Owen, the referee secretary for the Sheffield and District Junior Sunday Football League.
"Even if they are in their 40s they don’t feel safe.”
Is referee abuse on the rise?
Chesterfield-based Simon has been a Sunday league referee for 23 years after qualifying aged 15.
One year later he was grabbed by the throat by an angry parent, who later received a police caution, while more recently he was kicked by a player for refusing to award his team a free-kick.
"It seems to be happening more and more,” he said of the physical and verbal abuse referees receive.
"This is the worst season I have known about.
"A lot of it is pent-up frustration from being locked down and football being cancelled but a lot of it is people thinking they can talk to someone in a black uniform different to anybody else.”
There has been a ‘massive’ increase in the number of amateur football referees seeking support because of abuse, according to the organisation Ref Support UK.
The referee threatened on Sunday was a military serviceman in his 40s.
"The dad had offered to take him into the car park and give him a good hiding,” said Simon.
"He (the referee) was calm and collected and carried on with the game. He’s reported it to the county FA (Sheffield and Hallamshire).
"This is the second time I’ve had to talk him out of quitting. I think it’s the third time he’s been threatened this season.”
The youngster left in tears following an argument has also reported his incident to Sheffield and Hallamshire FA.
What can be done?
The vast majority of coaches, players and spectators are well-behaved, according to Simon, who admitted there is no simple solution.
“If I can get a team where we can have a bit of banter, a laugh and a joke, and they know where the boundary is – a lot of them are like that – I love it and the buzz of it.
"I would like to see county FA’s and the national FA have more power (to enforce harsher punishments). I would like to see repeat offending teams be removed from leagues but you are then spoiling it for 15 children who want to play football.
"If it’s a spectator, he needs banning but then who brings his child to football? Then you are punishing a kid for something an adult has done.”
A Sheffield and Hallamshire FA spokesperson said they cannot comment on individual incidents while investigations are ongoing but added: “The County FA would like to reiterate that we treat any form of abuse or unacceptable behaviour on a referee with the utmost seriousness, and we will ensure the strongest possible action is taken against the perpetrators.
“We offer support for referees at all levels of the game and we urge any official who has experienced abuse to report their concerns as soon as possible via the FA’s Whole Game System or directly to the County FA.”