Iwas fortunate to be able to referee for 25 years in South Africa and Ireland. I never missed a season and never let a game fall through. During that time, I suffered my fair share of abuse, threats and even assault. But I never felt like walking away.
Thankfully, the threats, intimidation and assault were not too bad, although my life was threatened a few times.
Should this be happening? Do we deserve this? Are we to blame? It’s a definite no to all of the above.
Like you, I watch a lot of football on television and one does not need to be an expert lip reader to make out what is often being said.
Foul language, the odd finger waved in our faces and even physical attacks can and do happen.
There are many videos circulating on social media of referees being punched and some even being chased off the field by thugs dressed in their team’s colours.
Worse still, sometimes club officials and their supporters also take part in the abuse.
I hear of some match officials contemplating walking away from refereeing, and who can blame them?
But I feel that we have to be strong in the face of adversity.
One could easily argue that it’s the fault of the powers that be because of their slowness in reacting and treating perpetrators with kid gloves. I agree 100% that this is the case.
I remember when I started refereeing in Ireland in the 1970/71 season; I was assigned to the amateur league in Dublin. The secretary of that league was a gentleman called Noel Kennelly. He was an excellent administrator and took no nonsense when disciplinary matters came to his attention.
He supported the referees 100%, knew what a difficult job officiating was, and was always cognisant of the problems that we encountered.
It was one of the best-run leagues in the entire country. There was much respect for him because players and officials knew that if they hindered a referee in any way in the performance of their duties, there would be consequences for them and their club. Because of that reassurance, referees could go out and perform their duties fairly.
What we see today is downright thuggery and hooliganism.
I partly blame the referees. They are not strong enough; they are not brave enough; they lack the backbone to deal with indiscretions on the pitch. And that’s putting it mildly.
Why is it so? Simple, the clubs rule the roost. They, or certainly some of their players and officials, appear to act with impunity.
What can be done about it?
I have long called for an independent refereeing body separate from the league and the football association, which would run along the same lines as the judiciary.
Referees currently belong to the football association of each country. I don’t believe that they are getting enough protection from their respective associations and are sometimes scared to make the correct decisions for fear of a backlash from clubs or management. If that be the case, how in heaven’s name can they do what they should be doing – penalising regardless of who the player is or which team he plays for?
An international rugby board is long overdue and needs to be implemented as soon as possible.