Abuse Against Referees – Is it Needed?

Australian referee Strebre Delovski is surrounded by Melbourne players after a decision.

For as long as football has been a game, referees have constantly been under the scrutiny of players, fans and teams alike. Whether the game finishes 1-0 or 8-0, losing fans always seem to put the blame straight onto the shoulders of the referees without a second thought as to what the real reason for the loss might have been. Yet does this constant abuse and scrutiny have any place within the beautiful game?

The short answer is no.

No matter where in the world you go, football is always regarded as the ‘beautiful game’. It is revered in some nations, and worshiped more than some religions in others. It brings people together, plays with their emotions, and then leaves them breathless and anxious for the next game after the final whistle blows. People live and die following the one team, whilst others are a bit more generous in regards to who they support and follow.

It can bring you to tears and leave you heart-broken, yet fans are always eagerly awaiting their teams match on the weekend to come. The game is beautiful, there is no denying that, yet there is an ugly blight which threatens to spoil the beauty of football if it continues to go unchecked.

For as long as I can remember football has been a part of my life. Whether it be simply playing it in the school yard as a kid, or enjoying the company of mates whilst we played for our club team on the weekend, I have always loved and appreciated this game called football.

In fact, my love for the game grew so much that, when I was 12, I decided to take up refereeing so that I could be paid to be a part of this game I loved so much. At first it was great – I was able to involve myself within the sport at a higher level than before, giving back to the game which has provided so much for me over the years.

Australian referee Strebre Delovski is surrounded by Melbourne players after a decision.
Australian referee Strebre Delovski is surrounded by Melbourne players after a decision.

Yet as the weeks went on, and as I refereed higher ages and divisions, I couldn’t help but notice and pay attention to the mountains of abuse which was hurled at me and other referees alike.

Even at an Under 12 Division 3 grass-roots game, the amount of abuse which was directed at me was stunning to say the least. At that level players play the game for fun and enjoyment, with the only prize on offer a trophy for participation right at the end of the year, but still parents and players alike would treat the referee as if the game was as crucial as securing the English Premier League or World Cup trophy.

Sadly enough, over time, this level of abuse became normal to me. Where once I might have felt disheartened or saddened by what I heard, it soon became “a part of the job”. I was taught to ignore, laugh at, or simply forget what was said to me and instead focus on officiating to the best of my ability. Whilst I have been able to do this and advance through the refereeing ranks to a level where winning and losing does mean so much more, many referees simply quit at the local level because they cannot handle the amount of abuse which is thrown at them.

One staggering fact from New South Wales here in Australia is that most junior referees quit after just 2 years because of all of the abuse which is hurled at them – and that is just from refereeing at a local, grass-roots level.

The thing is, abusing referees, and blaming them for pretty much everything, has become as natural as kicking the ball or scoring a goal in football. Kids grow up seeing adults abusing referees and thinking that it is normal, meaning that when they play or go to a match, they will end up doing the same thing.

Players are allowed to make hundreds of mistakes during a match with no ill-effects arising, yet if a referee makes one, just one mistake, he is chastised and left out to dry by players, coaches, officials, the media and fans alike. Even though a team may have had a passing completion rate of 60% and a tackling percentage of 55%, the referee will inevitably cop the blame for the loss because of one little mistake he or she may have, or may not have, made over the course of 90 minutes.

Kevin Muscat vents his frustration towards referees
Kevin Muscat vents his frustration towards referees

I admit that I am guilty of yelling my frustration at a referee or questioning his decisions, but I know that there is a line that you simply do not cross. Unfortunately though, a huge majority of fans do not recognise that line and often cross it. It saddens me to say that some “fans” (in inverted commas because no true fan of football would ever dare do this) will even go as far as targeting the families of officials with abuse and threats just because the referee made one simple era.

Humans make mistakes – we all know that, but some people seem to think that referees HAVE to be excluded from that fact. They believe that referees either have to be 100% right or not a referee at all.

Abuse towards referees is a blight on the game, I already said that and I stick by it now. If football truly wants to be “the beautiful game”, the amount of abuse which is hurled at referees needs to be curbed and fixed. Abuse towards referees will happen, it is inevitable, but there is a line that should not be crossed. We talk about respect in the game and how players put up with so much pressure, but why not stop and respect referees and the amount of pressure, scrutiny and abuse they have to go through on a daily basis just because they are trying to, and willing to, give back to the game they love.

As football fans we need to remember – without referees, there would be no game.

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