Many readers will have no doubt seen the front page headlines in last Friday’s getreading – ‘Player ‘Hit’ Ref in Face, Post-match punch-up in Sunday League’. The referee, Barry Angel, was reported to have suffered a clipped tooth and a cut lip and needed treatment at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. A 20 year old man has been arrested by the police on suspicion of assault so it is perhaps best that I don’t make any further comment on the incident but it is a blow to local football, especially coming after an incident earlier in the season when another referee was apparently thrown to the ground by a player.
The referee of this game is an old refereeing friend of mine and I do mean old. He has been a businessman in the town with a well known printing company and as someone else said in the getreading report, ‘he has been refereeing for ever’. The question that many people may ask is why does someone go on refereeing year after year when this sort of thing happens? I remember one other long serving referee who decided to hang up his boots but came back the next season saying ‘It’s like a drug, I can’t give it up’. But it is more than that; Referees are first and foremost football fans. They love their football and they love being involved. Many (although fewer these days) have played the game and for some reason are unable to continue playing, whilst others realise at an early age that they are not going to play at any level, so they turn to refereeing so they can still take an active part in the game they love. It’s easy perhaps to understand the emotions that the top referees experience. Imagine leading the teams out a Wembley before 80,000 spectators, Nerve racking yes but what a thrill that must be. That of course is only for the very few but for referee plying their trade on the local parks there are still moments of exhilaration.
Perhaps I can more easily explain this by recalling an under 19 development league game that I refereed a few weeks ago. Both teams had been coached of course and tried to play good football. The game was fast and furious with the lead changing hands several times. With two minutes to go and the game at 3-3, a defender under pressure put the ball into his own goal. Two minutes later at the final whistle there was exultation and dejection in equal measures but everyone had taken part in a thoroughly enjoyable game of football. There were of course niggles and minor disputes but for me the thrill was in being part of it and knowing that my presence and my control had made a contribution to the game and their enjoyment of it. That’s why referees keep coming back but what they don’t want and what Barry Angel didn’t want, is a smash in the mouth.
Men’s local football has been in decline for many years now, with leagues all over the country diminishing. The FA has introduced repeatable substitutes into men’s football at local level as an experiment to try and counteract this decline. But is the real problem elsewhere?, Behaviour of this sort does not only deter people from taking up refereeing in men’s football and don’t forget everyone has to start at this level, it can also turn many away from playing.
Having said all that, we mustn’t forget that most games are played without any incidents of this kind and are made up of teams who just want to have a game of football. The game must rid itself of those who behave in a violent way; otherwise it won’t just be the recruitment of referees that suffers but the local game itself.