On the island of Jersey, the football season is just approaching its business end with the two biggest sides, St Paul’s and St Peter, battling it out for the title once more.
But there’s a problem: all of Jersey’s referees have opted to go on strike in protest over continued bad behaviour at matches there.
And so now nobody quite knows what’s going on….with the clash between St Paul’s and St Peter now in danger of not going ahead.
It’s been a long time coming, by all accounts, with referees threatening strike action as long ago as October after a match day in which 10 red cards were shown in just 12 games.
Since then there has been a catalogue of further flashpoints, including one match official on the island being physically assaulted and others reporting racist and homophobic abuse from players, coaches and spectators.
The Jersey Football Referees Association (JFRA) got together and agreed that strike action was the only way to raise awareness of the issue.
“Our executive met very recently and had an in-depth discussion on this matter and came to a clear collective consensus that the time was now right for referees themselves to stand up and be counted and to seriously consider taking some form of action.
“Referees of all levels have been subjected to continued misconduct including that physical assault and lots of insulting and offensive abuse, often of a sexually inappropriate nature, which then become serious safeguarding and welfare issues.
“It was agreed that a message needs to be sent out to clubs, players of all ages, managers/coaches, parents and spectators that such incidents can no longer be tolerated, and if we don’t act now island football will lose more referees which it simply cannot afford to do.”
Catalogue of Misdemeanours a Sign of the Times?
Anybody that has played local or Sunday League football will know that anti-social behaviour, for want of a better term, is on the increase.
But you don’t expect it at a decent standard of the game, as is currently being experienced in Jersey.
There is quite a lengthy rap sheet developing on the island, and you can hardly blame the referees for taking such action.
One player was banned for six months for grabbing a match official by the shirt, while three young referees felt obliged to barricade themselves inside their dressing room after one junior match after receiving ‘prolonged insults from players, coaches and some parents’.
But the darkest day came on September 29, 2018, when the dozen top-flight games on the island saw a total of ten red cards – five for foul and abusive language, two for violent conduct – issued; for context, there were only four handed out in the top four tiers of English football on the same day.
With racist and homophobic abuse also commonplace, we should respect the referees for taking a stand. There are good refs, bad refs and indifferent ones, but nobody should be subject to physical and verbal threats on the pitch.
Can British Football Expect Something Similar?
In the British game, physical altercations between players/coaches and referees are thankfully kept to a minimum; Paulo Di Canio’s comedy ‘shove’ on Paul Durkin perhaps the highest profile example.
But you do worry that this is the way the game is heading; if not in the top flight, then certainly lower down the football pyramid.
And at the grassroots level, there are some shocking stories of players hospitalising referees in senseless attacks.
Martin Cassidy, who is the chief executive of campaign group Ref Support UK, has said there has been a stark increase in attacks on match officials in recent seasons.
“People of all ages have been phoning us,” he said. There’s been an increase this season – I don’t know why – but there’s definitely a difference.
“Reports we get include referees getting threatened after a game. A real problem we have found is that a lot of referees in grass roots live a short distance from the teams. That is causing a problem in the reporting of assaults.”
Could we see a strike action from referees in the UK, akin to that of their Jersey counterparts? It wouldn’t be a surprise – indeed, perhaps it’s a necessary step – and you wonder if refs from the Premier League downwards would support the action by going on strike in solidarity.