MAN IN THE MIDDLE – Has referee loyalty reached breaking point?

Updated: January 6, 2014


Referees, we all love them don’t we? Well hard as it may seem, berating the man in the middle is not a phenomenon of the modern multi-million pound game. This article was first published in the January 1968 edition of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, in it author and referee Cyril Jackson warns of a serious loss to football.

A few weeks ago it was reported that a few top referees were threatening to resign unless they were given stronger backing by the Football Association in their efforts to stamp out those many undesirable incidents that were spoiling the game and bringing it into disrepute.

They were also concerned at the many incidents on grounds where a minority of unruly spectators had invaded playing areas and adopted threatening attitudes to both referees and players. Shortly after this came the announcement from the Football Association that Millwall F.C. had been fined £1,000 and ordered to post “warning notices” as to the future behaviour of spectators.

This was not the backing referees had been expecting for an incident at The Den had involved an assault on a referee and was just one of many alarming incidents that had occurred there over a period of time.

Like many others, the Association of Football League Referees and Linesmen did not consider that justice had been done, nor even seen to be done. Within hours it was announced they were advising their members not to officiate at Millwall until adequate protection had been provided.

Happily, this advice was withdrawn when the Football League gave assurances they were treating the matter of protection as one of urgency, not only at Millwall but on other grounds as well. But while this particular incident highlights the danger to referees and players on Football League club grounds we are apt to forget  the danger to those thousands of other referees who week after week give up some of their leisure time officiating at games on public parks and other open spaces.

Their problem is far greater for they have no police to assist and no wall or railling to prevent spectators coming on the pitch. True, in comparison to the number of games played, the incidence of referees being assaulted on these grounds has been very, very, small. But cases have been reported of referees suffering injury from attacks by players and spectators.

Stern action has been taken by County F.A.s and players committing these assaults have, in quite a number of cases, been suspended sine die. Such grounds as public parks cannot, of course, be closed. And it is of little use fining the club concerned because of the misbehaviour of a few spectators. I do know, however, of one club virtually closed down by a local Council who refused them the use of any of their pitches after a series of incidents involving their spectators.

During the last year or so the number of players sent off and the number of cautions administered by referees has shown an alarming increase but despite firmer action by the F.A. and County F.A.s the figure continues to grow.

Many of these stem from the use of foul and abusive language at or to the referee or opposing players. Some will say: “The referee is too touchy, he should shut his ears to such language.” But he dare not for he would soon be classed as “weak” by players and it would not be long before fouls crept in and the game possibly get out of hand.

It is easy for the onlooker to say: “ignore bad language”, but he has not the job of controlling 22 men whose sense of discipline often leaves much to be desired. The referee has for long been the Aunt Sally of Soccer. Blamed for everything that is wrong with the game. Suffering insult from players and spectators alike.

Why then does he continue to referee when his monetary reward, other than those officiating on the Football League and other senior leagues, is but a few shilling? For many it is a sense of loyalty – to put back into the game as much or more than they took out as players.

But this loyalty has now reached breaking point and many referees, particularly younger men who in the years ahead should be those controlling our top games, are resigning after only a year or so. At the present moment the loss of referees exceeds the intake and this is causing serious concern for week after week hundreds of games in this country are being played without a qualified official in control.

If this trend continues the time will come when there may be little or no organised junior football with its consequent effect on the senior game. Referees are beginning to strike against the attitude of players and spectators towards them. If this attitude does not soon change, then the future could be bleak for the game.


To find out more about the history of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, visit their excellent website here.

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