Referee and abuse: “Why I love being a referee and I won’t quit”

A campaign in professional football in 2019 had referees wearing anti-abuse shirts before matches

From the suspension of a youth league and the banning of an under-7 club, to plans to introduce body cameras in adult football, the issue of referee abuse in grassroots football has been on everyone’s lips this week.

It’s one that thousands of BBC Radio 5 listeners and users of the BBC Sport website have taken part in, getting in touch to share your experiences as a referee or as a parent of young officials in the game.

Some of your stories have been harrowing: assaults, threats, physical and verbal abuse, and stories of being spat on. Some of you have left, others are persistent, determined to encourage change.

Here are three stories from those in the middle of the park.

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Andrew Taylor, 52, and his daughter Abbie, 29, are both judges in Birmingham. They have been in office for more than a decade. Andrew spoke to BBC Sport.

My experiences have ranged from good to ridiculous. I’ve been threatened with shooting, I’ve been offered to leave many times, I’ve been told that if I was in another country I’d already be shot or stabbed or killed. These are what I’d consider a respectable side after the local games, but things have just taken off.

We referee both men’s and women’s matches, but because of the parents we stopped playing children’s games. The kids themselves are great, but it’s the parents on the sidelines trying to live out their failed dreams through their kids.

I don’t know if it got worse, but it’s more prominent now.

People have always disagreed with referee decisions, it’s very opinionated, but these things stand out more because there’s more coverage on TV. Everyone relates everything to what they saw on TV. You will always turn to a player and say “that happened last night in the Spurs game and that wasn’t a foul or they didn’t handball, why did you do it?”.

I’m a big boy, I can take care of myself, I was a janitor. Until my legs can’t carry me, I’ll stay in the game as a referee. No matter what level of violence I am with, I don’t think I will ever be forced.

The FA is talking about having body cameras, which I think will help, deter some people, although others will probably play with the cameras.

Abbie Taylor - pictured aged 19 in 2012 - started refereeing aged 16
Abbie Taylor – pictured here in 2012 with a 19-year-old – started in the Solihull & District Oakbourne league.

Me and Abbie are in the same leagues so a lot of people know she’s my daughter so they start by giving her some respect, but she’s more than capable of taking care of herself.

Am I afraid to be outside? No, he knows how to handle situations. Does it make you angry? I think he did in his younger days, but now he’s hardened. He has learned how to deal with it.

She has definitely been treated differently because she is a woman, she has said so. Teams say sexist things around her but from what I’ve seen she handles it pretty well, and some players who don’t swear in front of her or try not to because she’s a woman. As a man, I face more physical threats than she does.

I was threatened with shooting on the occasion, I reported it to the League and the FA and to this day I don’t know what the punishment was.

I know people who have been attacked and are no longer judges. It sends the wrong signals and I think a lot of referees don’t accept it.

I will never let them beat me and Abbie is the same, we will never be beaten.

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Sam Midwood, 27, is a base referee in the London leagues. He qualified 10 years ago and has previously worked as a referee in Edinburgh, Newcastle and New Zealand.

Sam Midwood
Sam Midwood

In recent years I have experienced difficulties and abuse. To begin with, I didn’t see much but in the last five years it has been more.

One Sunday there was a men’s game, families and children watching, and I gave him a yellow card. One of the players comes up to me and says “stop making this game about you” with a lot of hype. I was 25 years old then, he was in front and then other players started coming to me. When a player has been aggressive, he shakes your hand after the game as if nothing happened, he doesn’t apologize.

I’ve been really tight and I’ve felt the pressure, I’ve felt really nervous and stressed on the walks home after a game, but I keep pushing because I love doing it and I want to help get better.

It confused me and made me more determined to delete it.

At school, I was bullied and I think that has grown into my refereeing; if you back off, it only lets them win.

I changed my strategy. Before every game, I now talk to the players and say, “I’m here to referee, you’re here to play,” and I deal with anything that’s nasty in a serious way. That seems to have made it better.

I have two younger brothers aged 10 and eight, and they play football at weekends. In my opinion, respect for the referee should be included at that level, because once a person reaches the age of thirty or forty, it is established that he will not change his approach no matter how hard he tries.

I think the professional game is also partly to blame. They see players crowding the referee and yes they get fines and bans, but when a kid sees the referee surrounded, that sticks in their mind.

I really like the football community, it brings together people from all walks of life. The reason I throw it in there is because in social situations I’m maybe more nervous than normal but on the field, I have no choice. I have no friends to protect me, it’s me against 22 angry men.

During my 10 years, I have gained a thicker skin and from it I have been able to improve my life.

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Trevor Mitchell was a semi-professional referee for almost 40 years. Now retired, he is a mentor to young referees in and around Peterborough.

People know me because I’ve been on the circuit, so if a young referee has a problem in a game, the league calls me and asks if I’ll go talk to the referee and get him what I can. , find out what happened, and be there for him.

I went to one a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was embarrassing. The referee was 16 years old, it was an under-8 match, and the defendant had already served a 180-day sentence.

He ran into the referee to shake his hand, but he didn’t let go and was telling him “you’re on video, I recorded you on video”, which he can’t do anyway. The referee stopped the game and restarted it, but then the parents all told him “you don’t know what you’re doing”.

I never did that when I was refereeing, so the League called me and asked me to talk to the young guy and put an arm around his shoulder to regain his confidence.

When I was a referee, you had problems in men’s matches, but your reputation went before you. They knew how they were with me and I knew how I would react to them.

When I played youth football, it was never like it is today. It’s terrible, a hundred times worse.

The last guy I saw, I think it was his fourth or fifth game. No wonder the youngsters don’t want refereeing any more, because if they run into it after two or three games, they’ll never regain their self-confidence.

There is too much football on TV now. As professional players get away with a lot of things that happen, coaches are encouraged to run up and down the touchline asking referees, fourth officials, VAR.

I think there’s football every night of the week and if the guys are at home watching their team, and if their team manager is walking around discussing decisions, that’s where it comes from and it comes down to grassroots or semi-professional football. That’s where the fault lies with me, with the professional game.

Honestly, if it’s youth football and it’s gotten really bad, I’d like to ban it for at least five years; 180 days is nothing, but banning football for five years would teach him a lesson.