You are currently CEO and Founder of Ref Support. Could you please elaborate on your role?
I worked at Wembley Stadium in the Referees department for the FA seven years and my role was to find the next generation of referees coming through to the top level and I left after not being happy with the support, coaching and mentoring of referees. They tend to do it for the elite and the relatively young which I do not think is the right way to do it.
I think every referee from grass roots whether they are 18, 20 or 54 should have the same coaching mentor at training irrespective of what level of football they are on. When I left I was running the whole of the South West Academy for the FA and the whole point of it is to give independent support irrespective of who you are or your level of refereeing and more importantly give you a voice because every knows that If you speak out against the FA as a referee it is not good for your future career.
People speak out and they do not get promoted or cup finals even at grass roots level. There has also been cases where this has happened at Premier League level. There has always been this attitude where there is a consequence to your opinion so part of our strategy was to make everyone aware that we will challenge the FA openly, publicly as well as on social media and privately so people understand that they have a voice and unbelievably it has just exploded because the press were picking up on it because they were not used to referees talking to the press because all referees are told not to deal with the press right down to grass roots level.
We are a breath of fresh and it Ref Support has turned into this voice for referees that I never thought it was going to be but I am really pleased that it has. It gives people the confidence to contact us. Lots of the problems are even when referees know they are right that do not want to be punished for it and this is an epidemic in it’s own way because everyone is the refereeing is scared to speak out.
You accrued a lot of experience, knowledge and know how during your referring career. What do you believe are the main skills needed to become a competent football referee?
I think one of the major skills in not actually taught as part of the referees exam and I believe it is one of the problems we have with recruitment, retention and improvement of referees.
The FA on the basic course and for a lot of the part of a referees career they do not train or educate about dealing with difficult conversations, they do not teach about facing up to challenges either verbally, mentally or physical and they do not teach you any form of soft skills or try to find out what your soft skills are they just basically teach you to pass the exam. They don’t teach you to referee.
At Ref Support we always equate it to a driving test you are taught to drive but when you go on the motorway it is a completely different kettle of fish and when we start to focus on those things, things will improve. Incidentally we got heavily criticized in the beginning for putting the videos out of referees getting beat up The FA told us this is going to prevent us recruiting referees and my argument was I think we have a duty to tell our referees that you may face this and therefore have a greater strategy of awareness and how to deal with it early on in a refereeing career so I think that will really change things in regard to referee development.
Another major point is as a referee if you are not going to go for promotion you can tick a box and you will never receive any form CPD training or up skilling events, you are not obliged to do law changes. The FA and county FA’s will offer new law changes seminars but they are not compulsory. The only compulsory training they have done recently outside the promotion system is the sin bin training which has been great. So this in itself causes problems with consistency. A referee one week is very diligent, ambitious wants to be the best he can and will go through all the training offered by FA and county FA’s and a guy that has been doing it years will have a different interpretation of offside, handball or penalty decisions and the ones that do the job properly are the ones that tend to get abuse or threatened and sometimes hit.
So we believe at Ref Support the FA have a duty as servants to their teams to ensure that all the referees are fully trained and fully up to speed in all the modern practices of referee training and the challenges that holds.
You mentioned referee abuse. As someone who is vastly experienced such as yourself. Have you seen a big increase in abuse and what do you attribute that to?
Well, It is a massive issue. There is many levels to this. Some believe the FA are truly genuine in how they deal with it and how they record it. For instance the FA released figures to say that only 0.001 percent of referees who had cases where they were proven to be assaulted.
What the FA don’t do and we have asked them to is to publish how many assaults were reported as an assault and went to a hearing and were found not proven and they tell us that they don’t keep those records. We believe there are just as many not proven as they are for proven cases of assault. There is many reasons for this. The report writing of the referee is not very good, they might be young, they might have some form of learning difficulties they might not be able to write properly. All this is never measured early on in a referees career.
There is nothing in a referees career to say have you ADHD, Dyslexia and challenges as regards to writing for example. I am not sure if they can actually do that but I think they have a duty to ask these questions particularly in regards to reporting. I would say that the vast majority of referees are disenfranchised with the FA’s because they might have reported an assault and it has not been dealt with properly.
They either get found guilty and then punishment is meek like in the case of Satium Torquay who was punched three times on video and the attacker was banned for ten years why does he not get banned for life. What have you got to do in this sport of football our national game to get banned for life, kill someone is that was has got to happen before we get those robust measures come in that we have been asking for.
It is disgraceful and it is definitely getting worse and we can’t measure longer than the past four years because it is only four years since we have been looking at this and people have found out they can come to us in confidence and another massive issue with non reporting is take Mark Clattenburg who lives up in Newcastle after refereeing the Chelsea FC v Tottenham Hotspur game he is unlikely to bump into Chelsea or Tottenham fans because he lives in Newcastle. Most grass roots referees referee within a certain geographical area close to their home so these people that are threatening, beating them up and spitting at them they are likely to see them on the school run, in a restaurant or in the supermarket with their children and they are many cases of referees shopping with their children and getting spat at because they sent someone off and this is causing people to say it is not worth reporting it because I might bump into them.
Also in regards to reporting the assault to the police as an actual crime there is no emphasis on the FA or county FA’s to report these assaults to the police and we think they should be legally obliged to do so because they sent the people out in these situations and if the referee does not report the assault the FA do not think it happens so we think there should be a change in how teams are registered so when they register there should be a tick box that says if I see a match official assaulted at one of my games I am obliged to report it.
A very easy thing to do so immediately you have 22 people obliged to report. Another point is some referees live in big cities if they go the the police they get framed as a grass so they won’t do it however if you take that out of their remit that is going to be a preventative measure.
Also when the write into the county FA’s they write a written report of assault and that is evidence of a crime so when they receive it why are they not obliged to send it to the Police and the final point I would like to make on it is the monetary fine when a player gets fined for beating up a match official they might get fined a couple of hundred pounds and absolutely none of that money goes to the match official who was assaulted, the county FA’s keep that money for themselves and I do not know any form of industry that makes money out of violence other than the Mafia. This must not be allowed to go on.
As someone who has refereed with a lot of experience. How do you feel that the game has changed in terms of refereeing in comparison to the current day. Do you see any trends happening. Have things happened that have made you sit up and take notice?
In refereeing the prizes are bigger because there are now professional referees when I started they still had jobs such as Police Officers. In the frame of football it is not very big but in the frame of monetary you can easily earn £100,000 a year by being a Premier League referee even when you are climbing to Conference level you get £150 a game and if you do three of them a week it soon adds up.
I also think that Mothers & Fathers view the prize for the player so when they have little Johnny playing and he is the next Wayne Rooney they think he is the next famous player so they tend to have a go and the referee when little Johnny gets kicked and the attitude to that prize has also escalated in my opinion. TV Coverage does not help in regards to the abuse because when I was doing TV games we had five cameras now we have got 25 cameras, VAR & GLC and you can’t miss a trick and I think what that does is people view that the referee has missed it because there is a camera behind the goal that has picked something up that the referee could not see but you would not want the referee to sit behind the goal and referee the game so the reality of what is put on the screen is not what the referee sees and I think that needs to be addressed in regards to commentary.
Pundits do not know the laws of the game. Sometimes they say things completely wrong in the laws of the game and they never apologize. They always talk about their day and that he has gone for the ball. Alan Shearer for instance said recently “I can’t believe that, it’s just a hard tackle, he got some of the player but he got the ball.”
Well what does that mean that he got some of the player. So if you hit him over the head with a baseball bat but still got some of the ball is that ok? The ball is irrelevant and it is these sort of mindsets where you think C’mon. The back pass changed LIverpool FC forever. They used to be able to kill a game by passing it back to Ray Clemence. All these little subtle changes in the game actively make the game a higher tempo game, there are more tackles and fouls.
The game has morphed into a very different game and when you hear people say “It’s took him a few months to get used to the Premier League.” What does that mean? because I believe that is the reasons why we don’t do well in Europe since Gareth Southgate for hold of England.
A big foot up challenge and the attitude of get in there and show them who is boss is not acceptable anywhere else’s in the World and when we go to big European Competitions we wonder why we pick up stupid bookings and we wonder why we get silly sending off’s because no one else plays the game like the Premier Leagues does and this attitude and acceptance of getting stuck in does not help the game because what is accepted on TV they think little Johnny is going to be able to do that at the age of ten and when you hear people really berating the referee and this mentality change where we are fair game however we are fair game in front of millions of people now on TV and that together with social media does not help.
Then you get people finding out where Michael Oliver lives and they are getting bullets put through their letterbox because people think it is a laugh. This disconnect where referees are fair game has evolved into an acceptance where If someone gets it wrong no one will say to Alan Shearer or these people on TV. C’mon Al you can’t have people being like that on a football pitch that is not a really good example to the young children of our game. No one seems to do it they just say yeah the referee missed it or if he gets an absolutely brilliant decision right a Linesman for instance they will often say he just about got that right and if he gets the same decision wrong they say it’s an outrageous decision he should be getting that right. It is this sort of we are always fair game that has just changed everything.
Would anyone know about Peter Crouch’s Robot if it was not for TV. Would anyone know about a Ronaldo or Cruyff turn if it was not for TV. TV clearly influences football for the positive why does anyone think it would not influence football at grass roots level with a negative. Children mimic TV and that is a huge problem and that is what makes it worse.
Finally Martin. You mentioned that Ref Support has being in existence for four years. Going forward is there anything that you would ideally like to achieve as a charity or you as an individual helping to drive that charity?
First of all, Ref Support has only been a charity for for year and we knew we had to open a 24/7 Hotline. and we will get back to you anytime of the day and we have grown men phoning us up saying such things as I can’t sleep. This lad today said he was going to slit my throat and I was in the army and I would have been able to deal with him no problems at all but because I am devoted and dedicated to the role I am in it is stewing on me and I feel less of a man now.
I get Mothers phoning me up saying My Daughter is in hospital because she was stressed out and came out in a rash because she was threatened by grown men who were coaching her under 12 team and she did not want to tell her Mother who had a nervous breakdown and a social worker finds out in a hospital what went on. Our aim and goal at Ref Support is that we do not need that 24/7 Referee Abuse Hotline. When we don’t need that, that will be classed as a huge success for me and I would celebrate that day but that day is years away.