PLAYERS and spectators should “remember the word respect” – then the referee crisis in Huddersfield’s football leagues may be solved.
That was the view of Frank Beaumont, president of the town’s Football Association, as he spoke about a new £200m nationwide scheme which aims to give more protection to officials.
The main FA body, based in London, launched a five-year Respect campaign last month to eliminate abuse directed at referees and help with their recruitment and retention.
There are between only 14 and 19 qualified referees to cover open-age Saturday fixtures in Huddersfield and six on Sundays, with more than 60 matches played typically each weekend.
This worrying figure, an all-time low, contrasts with a total of 88 in 2001.
Mr Beaumont said: “As this season comes to a close it looks as though it will go down in the records as the ‘turnabout season’ for the provision of official referees.
“In 2002-03 the local FA managed to staff 66% of all open-age soccer games.
“In the current season the position has been reversed with 66% of all open-age soccer fixtures being unstaffed.
“The fact that the games have taken place at all has been left to the goodwill of those volunteers who step forward to fill the gap.”
He added: “The FA would like to express our thanks to those people for fulfilling what, for them must have been a difficult task.”
Sir Trevor Brooking, the director of football development at Soho Square, told the Examiner in February that the FA trains about 7,000 referees each year but lose about the same number.
He said their biggest challenge is to ensure people stay involved with refereeing and the Respect campaign would try to promote this issue.
Mr Beaumont explained: “It would be nice to think that Huddersfield leagues could show the way with the scheme and when the players and spectators go out on the field they remember that word ‘respect’.
“Respect for the referee, their opponents, the managers and officials. And, just by this simple action we may be able to reverse the ‘turnabout.’ Failure to do so is just not worth contemplating.”
Mr Beaumont said the Huddersfield FA have tried a number of measures to rectify the problem of recruiting and keeping officials in the game.
“We have put forward a number of schemes and opportunities for young men to take up the whistle,” he said.
“Presentations have been made at league meetings, specific groups have been targeted and a number of column inches have appeared in the local press outlining the need for more referees and where to go to sign up.”
Mr Beaumont said the Huddersfield FA also conducted a survey among people involved in local football to find out their views on the decline.
He added: “Not surprisingly a majority of the replies received stated that it is the manner that officials are abused by players and spectators when undertaking their duties in the local leagues that puts them off.
“Sadly one has only to visit some of the local matches to witness exactly what they mean.”
The Respect Campaign, which plans to improve the situation of a national referee shortage, was thrown into the national media spotlight – for the wrong reasons – only days after its launch.
In the Tottenham v Chelsea Premier League game on Wednesday, March 19, Blues players surrounded referee Mike Riley protesting Ashley Cole’s innocence after a bad challenge on Alan Hutton.
And just four days later, Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano was sent off for improper conduct in his side’s 2-0 defeat at Manchester United.