To: The Somerset Football Community
It is with great sadness that I have to write this statement, however we need to address the escalating issues of poor behaviour in grassroots football within Somerset.
The opening months of the 2023-2024 season has seen the worst start to a season that we have ever witnessed, with an unprecedented increase in disciplinary cases. At the time of writing, discipline cases are up by 50% compared to the same time last year, the number of abandoned matches is double that of 12 months ago and we have a huge increase in discipline relating to youth football.
Season 2021/2022 and Season 2022/2023 were already two of the worst in terms of discipline that we have ever seen in Somerset and, far from an improvement in these statistics, we are seeing a worrying trend in the opposite direction.
Most worryingly, a large number of these cases are in youth football. Cases involving youth players and referees have risen by an alarming 66% from this time in 2022. The main offenders in youth football are adults, be they coaches, managers, club assistant referees, spectators or parents. This may not come as a surprise to some of you who regularly watch youth football, but now is the time for everyone to take responsibility and protect the game that we all love. Young people in football, regardless of their role, deserve to enjoy the game free from abuse and negativity, and should expect adults to behave in a manner that sets a positive example. The young people themselves have told us that they prefer a friendly environment so they can learn and most importantly, enjoy the game, this is simply not happening at the moment.
It would be wrong to think this is restricted to the youth game. The rise in indiscipline is spread across all aspects of grassroots football, from mini soccer, youth football, adult male and adult female.
We all take part in football because we love the game and appreciate the enjoyment it brings us, be that playing, refereeing, coaching or numerous other roles. However, the atmosphere for most of our participants at this moment cannot be enjoyable in the current climate.
The knock-on effect is of course felt across all areas of the game, not least in refereeing. Recruiting referees is in itself a difficult task, however for those who come through our courses the environment they face is hardly conducive to retaining them. All our referees, especially those who are recently qualified and are learning the game, deserve the same supportive, encouraging environment that is given to the players. This is even more crucial when the referee is a child themselves. Sadly, we’ve had more incidents of adults abusing new or young referees, with young referees being left in tears by the conduct of adults. (Our under 18 referees are easy to spot, as most wear a purple/pink shirt, so there is no excuse.)
I would ask everyone involved in the game, whatever your role, your age, the level you are involved at to take a moment to reflect on their actions and interactions, both on and off the field and think of the following:
• Am I promoting respect and sportsmanship, or am I contributing to the problem?
• Do I need to make that comment, will I regret it and realise I’ve overstepped the mark afterwards?
• Do I need to criticise the referee for a mistake, or perhaps should I reflect on the mistakes I have made myself during the game?
• Am I setting a positive example to those who are participating? Adults - young people will copy your actions as you are their role models.
• Am I a positive role model for children and young people?
• Are my actions hurting football?
Most of you who read this won’t be the problem, the majority of participants abide by the rules and cause no trouble; however, we all must challenge poor behaviour when we see it; we cannot stand idly by and let the game be spoilt by a minority.
We will be working with clubs and leagues to reinforce codes of conduct and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for poor behaviour. This includes robust disciplinary procedures and sanctions for those who fail to adhere to these standards and could include the cancellation of fixtures.
These however should be the last resort, simply by taking ownership of our actions and behaving responsibly and decently, we can prevent these incidents taking place. It is for all of us to do our bit and do what is right and, if we do, the collective response will see us return to everyone taking part in the game we all love in the way we want it to be.
WE NEED TO ACT TOGETHER TO PROTECT OUR GAME.
Jonathan Pike, Somerset FA CEO