THE referee shortage crisis in Huddersfield soccer needs to be tackled straight away.
This was the message delivered by members of the Huddersfield Football Association to the West Riding FA when they met for a second time in three weeks to discuss the dire situation.
Now there are between only 14 and 19 qualified referees to cover open-age Saturday fixtures and six on Sundays with more than 60 matches played typically each weekend.
This worrying figure, an all-time low for the area, contrasts with a total of 88 in 2001.
The two bodies have been communicating to come up with ideas to help recruit more and give extra support to existing referees.
Officials from both associations met at the Examiner offices on Wednesday to continue their talks after first attending a summit meeting in January to hear a hard-hitting account of the crisis.
John Ennis, referees’ appointments secretary for Huddersfield, said there needs to be a “quick fix” to stop the numbers from dropping any further.
“I don’t think the County (FA) realised the state we were in before we put the matter to them,” he explained.
“If the numbers continue to fall they will drop so low that we will be off the page on the graphs I have drawn up representing the decline.
“We’ve got to do something pretty much straight away to hold our ground – we need a quick-fix.
“For my graphs to move in the right direction changes have to be made sooner rather than later. We can’t wait for three years down the line.”
The Huddersfield and District Football Association predict that if the number of qualified referees available continues to fall, there will be 700 games in this 2007-08 season unstaffed.
Steve Rhodes, the County FA’s Referees Development Officer, also agreed that a quick fix is required.
Rhodes, however, said it was important to implement long term measures whereby people who join up to be a referee genuinely want to remain so instead of dropping out.
“A long term solution will probably give us the greatest benefits,” he said.
Mr Rhodes, regarding a more immediate solution, added: “We need to offer things like a matchday skills course.
“This would give people a little knowledge into the laws of the game and give them the confidence to go out and take charge.
“When they do officiate and enjoy it, they can then do a full referees course as a result.”
Mr Rhodes said whichever short term solution is implemented to rectify the worrying situation, it is important to try and retain the referees’ commitment.
“What we’ve got to try and achieve is help the people who we train now as part of this quick fix to stay in the game until next season.
“Otherwise, all we will be doing is introducing short term measures one after the other.”
Players directing verbal abuse at referees, and a general lack of respect being shown to them, are being blamed as the main reasons for the decline in numbers.
Mr Rhodes said that he could not guarantee the figures wouldn’t continue to drop as all he could do was provide the necessary facilities to try to attract and retain referees.
He said: “We knew that there were problems in particular areas but it isn’t until you talk to people from such as the Huddersfield FA that you realise the scale of it.
“You then know that things need to be done in that area.
“In terms of the whole of the West Riding, Huddersfield has the greatest need for solutions to be made than the others,” added Mr Rhodes.
Frank Beaumont, president of the Huddersfield FA, said the main suggestion in the first meeting between the associations to solve the problem was to introduce courses aimed at former players.
He said: “We should target the courses at players who have retired and want to get involved with local games but don’t necessarily want to reach the top level of the referee structure.
“There are over 1,000 players for example, in open-age games on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Each season, we estimate that if 3% of this figure drop out of playing each season, that number is all we need to solve the problem,” said Mr Beaumont.
A training course for Huddersfield’s volunteer referees starts later this month.
It is aimed at the officials who stand in on Saturdays and Sundays for games where there are no official referees.
The four-part course at Newsome High School & Sports College is being run by referees’ instructor Neil Simpson.
He said: “It’s a mini course for people who referee games involving their own clubs.
“The people who complete the course will not be official referees but they will have a better understanding of the laws of the game”.
Places are available on the course for anyone over 14.
It runs on February 26 and 28, and March 4 and 6, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
The cost is £10.
For further details contact Mr Simpson on 01422 374916.