referee abuse

New action plan to tackle referee abuse

We're planning a season long campaign to address this vital issue

Young referees go on strike to protest against abuse


Enough is enough. That’s the message from our referees who have this weekend made a stand over the levels of abuse they are receiving from spectators and coaches.

On Sunday, 21 young referees at all the Northumberland Football League central venues were withdrawn from their fixtures, forcing coaches and parents to referee matches themselves and get a taste of what it’s like to officiate.

The action, which was supported by Northumberland FA and Northumberland Football Leagues was as a direct result of the current levels of unacceptable abuse directed at our match officials since the start of the season. We are currently getting reports of referees being abused every other day – and this is just the instances which are reported to us. We know that many more go unreported.

Both organisations are committed to taking action to stamp out this abuse. We have put an action plan in place for the rest of the season to signal our zero tolerance approach. This includes:

  • A positive weekend on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 November where spectators, coaches and players at all fixtures are expected to only make positive comments
  • Monthly competition to reward positive behaviour
  • Paid referee mentors to attend central venues every weekend
  • Gather referee feedback on coach/spectator behaviour at every fixture – allowing us to identify repeat offenders
  • A mandatory start of season event for all new coaches, featuring league tuition and practical CPD – including expected behaviour standards
  • Mandatory posters/banners to be displayed by all clubs and teams regarding referee abuse
  • Actively work to identify and train a cohort of new officials made up of coaches, former players and club officials who can bring knowledge and experience to the referee role
  • A new course to train parents/spectators/volunteers who wish to act as a linesperson for their team


We hope these initial steps will have a significant impact. However, if we continue to receive reports of referee abuse, the following will be considered:

  • A ‘no spectator’ weekend for all football
  • Clubs with repeated charges related to parents/spectators abusing referees to be instructed to play behind closed doors
  • Clubs/teams with repeated misconduct to be considered for expulsion from the league, under league rules with support of the County FA.


Northumberland FA Executive Officer, Andrew Rose-Cook, said: “We are all passionate about football – but passion cannot be used as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour.

“Our referees are committed to helping our players and teams have a positive and enjoyable match day experience. Abusing them is simply not acceptable. We cannot and will not allow this to continue. This weekend is the first step in a season long campaign to encourage everyone in grassroots football to be ‘100% positive’. I appreciate that this is an ambitious target – but this situation has not gone far enough and we are determined to take a firm stand.”


Northumberland Football Leagues’ General Manager, Ian Coates, added: “All the referees at our central venues are new to officiating. They are children themselves and are still learning – yet they are receiving horrendous verbal abuse when they make an honest mistake,  or make a decision that not everyone agrees with.


I would urge every one of our parents and coaches to take a look at their own behaviour. Please support and encourage our referees – without them there would be no football. Let’s all move forward together in a positive manner.”


Steve Swinyard, NFA Board member and Safeguarding Champion, said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring the grassroots game is enjoyable, safe and fun for everyone. We’re at a stage now where unfortunately, strong action needs to be taken to make the point that this type of behaviour is unacceptable.


“I’d urge all of our football community to come together – support our referees, report any bad behaviour you see and ensure we all keep the game 100% positive.”


We are actively working with all our leagues – youth and adult – to tackle the issues of referee abuse.