Press Office

Thursday 27 Nov 2014

Press Release

Radio 5 Live finds attacks on grassroots refs up 25%

Assaults on grassroots referees by footballers in England have gone up by more than a quarter in the past year, according to figures seen exclusively by BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast and broadcast today.

The figures, which are used internally by the Football Association, show that by the start of February this season there had been 330 assaults on match officials, up from 260 at the same point last year.

The FA says it is concerned by the rise, and that the number of attacks on referees needs to be reduced. However, it insists its Respect campaign is working, with more new referees being recruited, and fewer dropping out of the game.

Information about assaults on referees is compiled by the 52 English County Football Associations that are affiliated to the FA, and covers games played by 14 year olds upwards.

The FA divides assaults on referees into three main sections. The first is "causing serious bodily harm", which can include hitting a referee, using a weapon, or breaking a bone. The second is "causing or attempting to cause bodily harm", which means using force on a referee, or inflicting minor injuries such as a bloody nose. The third is classified as "common assault". This is basic contact with the official, so could include laying on of hands, barging and pushing.

The most frequent of these were common assaults, which went up from 205 incidents to 276. There were 51 incidents of "causing or attempting to cause bodily harm", up from 47 last year. However, the rarest and most serious form of assault has declined, from eight attacks last season to three this year.


Peter Suter has been a grassroots referee for 37 years. After a match in Doncaster, during which he sent two players off, he was headbutted causing swelling and bruising to his face. The player was arrested and received a police caution.

Mr Suter has already given up refereeing children's games, saying they are not worth the trouble, and is now considering retiring altogether: "I've been a ref for 37 years and the respect towards officials is definitely getting worse. Players are learning bad habits and a lack of respect from watching high-level football on TV. For some of them, having a go at the ref is part of the game."


The Football Association began its Respect agenda at the start of the 2008/9 season. It says it is concerned by the recent rise, but points out that these attacks are still rare considering the thousands of games that take place every week.

The FA also highlights the fact that the number of referees being retained and recruited has increased, and that referees "contentment levels" have gone up.

This season there are more than 27,000 referees in England, up 5% on last year. Dermot Collins is the FA's Respect Manager: "At the moment these figures are up, and that's a concern. We need to be vigilant to make people aware of this problem, and make sure these numbers go down. We can't blame professional footballers because we don't see assaults in professional football. Grassroots football has to deal with this."

Premier League

However, some argue that if more was done to encourage players and managers at the top of the game to respect referees, officials at the grassroots would benefit.

Steve Kean is the manager of Blackburn Rovers and says the Respect agenda is important in protecting young referees and keeping them in the game: "We're going to have a lack of referees, that's something that has to be addressed from the top and probably be fed down into the grassroots."

But the FA is keen to emphasise that with around 35,000 games taking place every week, the proportion of referees getting assaulted is tiny.

Ian Blanchard, the Senior National Game Referee Manager, says that even one assault a season is one too many and they do have a comprehensive support system in place for any referee who's been attacked.


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