Seeing purple instead of red: how shirty spectators are being silenced by young refs
YOUTH football leagues in Gloucestershire and Bristol are making eye-catching strides towards blowing the full-time whistle on ill-treatment of young referees - by parading them in purple!
Upset and frustrated at an alarming decline in fledgling match officials, Cheltenham Youth League set about finding a solution to a growing local and national malady, the abuse and intimidation of emerging referees in competitive games.
After much debate, league officers and associates came up with the idea of supplying vivid shirts to under-18 refs in an inventive move designed to draw attention to their inexperience – and make hot-headed spectators seeing red at decisions see purple instead.
Cheltenham Youth League (CYFL) chairman Nigel Newport-Black explained: “It all began for us during the 2016-17 season. On the back of a rapid expansion of the league during the previous two seasons, we noticed an increase in complaints from young referees concerning behaviour towards them.
“Despite having the clubs attend a mid-season meeting and us trying to lay the law down and threaten them with instant reporting to Gloucestershire FA for disciplinary sanctioning, the situation continued to deteriorate.
“In effect, what was occurring was child abuse. We were losing referees and something needed to be done to reverse the trend.
“The following season Denise Pates (CYFL secretary), Graham McNulty (CYFL referee appointment secretary), Brian Durie, the then newly-appointed CYFL referee development officer, and myself as CYFC chair, formed a referee sub-committee in early 2018.
“The aim was to improve refereeing standards and therefore enjoyment levels of ALL participants.
“The idea to differentiate our under-18 match officials from our adult match officials was formulated, culminating in the purple shirt idea.”
Nigel continued: “The rationale was simple: the excuse of ‘I didn’t realise he/she was a child’ would no longer be, in any way, shape or form, believable or acceptable, as there was a clear signpost - the purple shirt - identifying the individual as a child.
“We put a recommendation to the management committee and after our very generous league sponsor agreed to underwrite the costs, we put the plan into place.
“Our playing season finishes in April so it was agreed to implement the plan for the start of this current campaign.
“The first batch of 100 shirts was ordered and paid for by the sponsor in July and duly arrived in mid-August.”
Nigel revealed that all Cheltenham Youth League under-18 referees had been invited to a pre-season meeting on the first Sunday in September, the day the campaign kicked off, when the plan was explained.
He said: “The first shirts were distributed with the instruction that all under-18 referees MUST wear their shirt when officiating on our games.
“We printed a message on both the front and back inside pages of our handbook and it features prominently on our website: www.cheltenhamyouthleague.co.uk
“The roll-out was met with universal praise from our referees, their parents/carers, the clubs and also spectators.
“The FA got wind of what we were doing and started to tell all county FA’s what we were doing and what a great idea it was.
“They used it as an example of both innovation and best practice. Since the roll-out in September we have been copied by many leagues and county FA’s and we have had to purchase another batch of shirts, again facilitated by the league’s sponsor.”
Nigel, who is a GFA board member and chairman of the GFA Referees’ Committee, is adamant the initiative has already begun to make a difference.
He stressed: “During the first three months of the 2017/18 season we received seven reports of abuse aimed at under-18 referees.
“During the first three months of this season we had received one report, so in my opinion it clearly works.”