GRASSROOTS REFEREEING WITHOUT ASSISTANTS

Female referee holding flag in the airWhen teams play their games sometimes spectators, players or management will say that you need assistants, thinking that the lack of assistants is a situation confined to their own league. What isn’t realised is that a lot of grassroots football is played without assistants, for example the Sheffield Junior league, the Sheffield girls league, also in adult leagues such as the Former South Yorkshire Amateur League, the Wragg League Over-35s and Over-45s and, importantly, Divisions 1and 2 as well as some of the premiership games of the County Senior League which, until recently, was Step 7 of the FA Pyramid System.  So you can see that this situation isn’t limited to any one league. There are, therefore, many situations where referees must work without using club assistants.

When referees turn up for a game they set out to minimise contentious issues during the game and seek to avoid any potential problems that might arise. First of all, they check the field of play including the goal nets, particularly the sides of nets.  All these things have a large potential for issues that officials just don’t need. The same decision is made over club assistants. Many referees when they start off certainly attempt to use club assistants, but why do they stop using them?

Choices with club assistants that referees make include such matters as, ‘do they signal offsides or just ball in or out of play?’ A recent season during a Sheffield United game there was a decision was whether the ball was on or over the line. It was the assistant’s opinion as a neutral. Could you imagine a club assistant making that shout and the issues it would cause for the referee? Neutral assistants at all levels make mistakes, no matter what their experience, but they make them unintentionally as neutral people. Just imagine if the assistant happened to be attached to one of the clubs playing!

Always remember as a player, spectator or manager that offsides are a matter of opinion for the referee.  You will sometimes have substitutes, spectators or parents acting as club assistants, which will mean one from each side. What would happen if an offside is being flagged by the opposing team’s assistant? Lots of referees have been in this exact situation and it causes them no end of trouble. He/she doesn’t just have to referee the game, but also has to cope with parents, spectators and managers causing issues. You could even reverse the situation — the flag doesn’t go up, it is the assistant’s team attacking and they are offside. An equaliser is scored but the opposition thinks they were offside. Once again the referee is no longer just officiating the game on the pitch because he/she has more to contend with off it.

It is hard for referees. They turn up with two-thirds of their team missing each week, because of the shortage of match officials, but they still do a job. In fact, they do a very good job. Oh yes, they make the occasional mistake but they never do so intentionally. Do all referees’ mistakes lead to goals, or could it sometimes be a defending or a goalkeeping error?
Refereeing is hard and it can be a lot harder with club assistants. This comes from many stories told at Sheffield RA meetings when our referees discuss scenarios that have happened and ask the more experienced officials what they would do.

The girls league and the boys league are also development leagues for match officials. Referees learn on these league and move on exactly the same as players because they learn and they improve every week. We all make mistakes and we must learn from them. We have numerous officials who turn up at referee meetings and discuss incidents, asking what could they have done better? What could they have done to prevent something happening? The girls league runs mentor days, where officials are watched by more experienced officials and give development points and tips to reduce the number of mistakes.

There are great announcements coming from the leagues, in the Sheffield and Hallamshire area with people working together to improve officials, to improve RESPECT, to educate or get rid of those spectators who think that abuse towards a referee is ‘part of the game’No matter how young or what gender, these referees are all human. The difference between these young referees and most non-referees in my eyes is their bravery and their love of the game for all the right reasons.