Referees – Why do they bother?

A recent conversation with a close friend has sparked an interesting thought to another side of the game that often undeservedly receives an abundance of abuse…refereeing.

My friend bless him is not your best sportsmen standing at just over 5 foot and possessing two left feet but his passion for the refereeing element of the game is expansive as he bores us all in the pub, reeling off ref stats one after the other. Prompted on why he loves refereeing so much? Passion and love for a sport he can’t play well…

Puzzled and wondering why he doesn’t just stick to champ manager or play at a low level of competitiveness, it fuelled interest into referees motivations and the extent of the problem of referee shortages affecting the large majority of football playing communities across the globe.

Refereeing abuse as I knew of it appears to have evolved along with the game, from comical remarks to personal, foul mouthed gestures ranging in extreme instances to physical violence. A recent video of a Chinese football player continuing Di Canio’s referee beating legacy signifies the lack of respect evident in many games of football played across the world.

Being a Chelsea fan, I cannot condone Drogba or Ballacks disgraceful ref abuse witnessed in last seasons Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. It was unprofessional, vulgar and made a mockery of the club with much of footballs youth on looking and aspiring to Didier as a role model whilst hurling abuse at poor referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo.

Incidentally, Ovrebo was the subject to death threats by Chelsea fans post the game and was smuggled out of the stadium into immediate police protection for not his best refereeing performance, but undoubtedly undeserving of such a response.

In Drogba’s and other hot-headed player’s rather weak defence, passion and emotion is an inevitable part of the game which can also produce truly magical occasions. Portrayed very well by Jose Mourinho in his recent Sky HD adverts revolving around ‘passion for the game’.

Ironically, dodgy refs and poor decisions are what make football so magical to watch with such a whirl wind of highs and lows. Referee disagreements and passion filled arguments are what make the modern game such an attraction whilst also posing one of the amateur games biggest threats. Beyond these selfish views, at the root of the problem and in relative terms are people like my friend who are the barrage of such abuse. These individuals remain an inspirational bunch who persist in volunteering their time to help develop and govern the game to propel the English grassroots system.

The gulf between professional football referees continues to expand as your average Sunday league match is governed by a team-mates uncle who completed a coaching course whilst at school over 30 years ago. With refereeing numbers dwindling after every weekend of abuse, not only the FA’s ‘Respect’ campaign but governing bodies across sport are forced to heavily invest into the grassroots element of their game.

According to the FA, every season sees 7,000 referees quit football due to abuse received from players and from the sidelines. It appears referee recruitment and retention is pretty difficult if all you can offer to participants is a stressful role where their title will be one of many swearwords in a predominantly volunteer based role?

Instead of abusing referees and campaigning for technological advancement we should understand their faults and pay homage to these unique, often weird looking individuals who are governing the game with a uniform fit for a funeral and a mere whistle. Today’s average referee is fitter, smarter and much more accurate than referees experienced throughout my lifetime, so I can safely say that next time I am unhappy with a challenge or dodgy decision I will bite my top lip before hurling any abuse.

Join the discussion and share your comments, whether a referee, opinionated player or sympathetic observer let us know your thoughts on refereeing…

Alain Brissimitzakis writes at

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  1. Stephen Smith - Senior County Referee, Lancashire 20 August, 2009
  2. Avik 20 August, 2009
  3. Alain 21 August, 2009
  4. Greg 7 September, 2009