The relationship between fans and referees has always been a fractured one. However, as the stakes of a result become much higher, referees are under scrutiny like never before.
We are entering an era in which referees are being ostracised from the rest of football with referee abuse becoming all too common.
On average, the FA lose 100 referees a year with a 25% decrease in the number of referees who return. This is a direct consequence of abuse towards refs at grassroots level.
A survey conducted by the BBC showed that more than 30% of referees said they had been physically abused by a spectator.
The FA have started initiatives to stop this trend. They launched the Body Cam pilot earlier this year, which not only will act as a prevention for abuse, but can be used to identify an abuser.
Point deductions for any team whose players consistency abuse officials have also been introduced.
Ref Support UK are a registered charity that work to support grassroot referees. The charity works alongside the FA with other organisations to tackle referee abuse.
Martin Cassidy, CEO Ref Support UK, told the Sports Gazette why he set up the charity.
“I worked for the FA’s referee department for nearly ten years. While I was there, the Referee Association were viewed as the go to place, but I never saw them flash up any problems publicly even though I was hearing and seeing all these problems behind the scenes.”
“So, I had nowhere to go which led me to set up something myself.”
The charity was the first of its kind to campaign for the Body Cam pilot. However, the idea was originally rejected in 2018 with the FA saying: “The FA have no appetite for Body Cams”
Cassidy added: “We’ve made some ground breaking moves which has changed the landscape for refereeing.”
“The Body Cam pilot was our sole idea, No one supported us on that. Now that Body Pilot is happening now.”
Referees at the top level are under public scrutiny like never before as a consequence of the introduction of VAR. The purpose of VAR was to provide referees with the support they need to make an accurate decision.
Most football fans would agree that, for the most part, this has not been the case in the early years of VAR.
VAR has fractured the relationship between fans and referees. This is a result of the lack of transparency with how the technology is used when making a decision.
With the introduction of VAR there is very little room for error for the officials using the technology. This expectation football fans now have for perfection creates a volatile atmosphere towards referees when an error is made.
Earlier this season, Tottenham Hotspur beat Liverpool 2-1. The game was full of controversial decisions with Liverpool receiving 2 red cards.
Liverpool’s Curtis Jones tackle on Tottenham’s Yves Bissouma which saw him sent off
In the 34th minute, Liverpool’s Luis Diaz ran through on goal and seemingly put Liverpool 1-0 up. However, the offside flag went up immediately, initially disallowing the goal.
After a review, the VAR images seemed to show Diaz was on side and therefore the decision should’ve been overturned.
Due to a lack of communication, the on-field decision stood despite the Liverpool attacker being onside.
This sparked outrage in the footballing community who questioned the competence of the referee and the VAR officials.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was far from pleased, even going as far as requesting the match to be replayed.
Glenn Moore, a freelance sports reporter, who has written many reports on referees, shared his thoughts on how VAR has changed the dynamic for referees in football.
“The technology isn’t the problem, it’s the administration of it. I would like to see its usage go up.
The thing is with VAR we remember the times they get it wrong but there’s lots and lots of times when VAR gets it right and they just seem to be forgotten about.”
“The modern referee is as good as it’s ever been.”
Love it or hate it, VAR is here to stay.
We need to consider as football fans that VAR is a relatively new concept with officials effectively learning on the job. There is no doubt it has changed the modern game forever with referees now being more reliant on technology to identify errors.
The dependence on VAR means that, when an error occurs, questions regarding a referee’s ability to use VAR will allows follow.
Referee abuse is rife throughout the modern game and the relationship between fans and referees is becoming increasingly toxic.
With the help of charities such as Ref Support UK, we should begin to see an improvement in the way in which referees are treated on and off the pitch.