The Cheltenham Youth Football League is suffering a severe shortage of referees because too many are dropping out due to abuse from the sidelines.
The lack of referees is not only impacting on the coverage of games each week but also on the long-term development of officials in the sport. Last year the league was able to cover 40 games. Now that number has dropped to 28-30 games.
Referee secretary Russell Price said that 10 games a week on average are played without a referee and the problem is not improving anytime soon.
While there is a long-term shortage of adult referees, it is the younger kids subjected to abuse they do not have the life experience to deal with who are regularly dropping out.
Price said: “These young referees pass a basic course and then need to train on the job. They are still developing. Clubs do not seem to have an understanding of ability levels.
“And over-excitable managers and parents means we are losing these referees, as the youngsters are put off by the harassment.
“What the parents say on the touchline has an impact on what the manager thinks and there will be a knock-on effect to the kids.
“We need to nip it in the bud now and preach an absolute zero tolerance approach to this abuse.
“Spectators and managers should applaud the right decisions but if it is against your team, they must learn to bite their tongues. Be professional and go down the official channels at the end of the game.
“Provide constructive criticism. These referees are willing to learn and this will help their development.”
But the issue is by no means caused by the majority of managers and parents on the touchline.
Both Price and Leckhampton Rovers Under-13 manager Mark Lawrence agree that the abuse comes from “a few bad apples” who are capable of ruining the good nature of the youth football league for all.
But if the harassment and abuse does not stop soon, Price has laid out potential steps in an attempt to put a stop to the abuse for good.
These include teams paying referee fees and expenses, keeping spectators behind a physical barrier a defined distance from the pitch and deducting points from teams found guilty of harassment.
The most extreme steps include withdrawing the referees from the entire fixture programme for one or more weekends so clubs have to referee their own matches or withdrawing fixtures for one or more weekends so matches must be played later in the season.
Price said: “We need to crack down on this.
“We would like a better mix of young and adult referees so we need to encourage these youngsters to stay on.
“It has both long-term and short-term effects. We need to start laying foundations now.”