Referee abuse: Why mob behaviour has been accepted on the pitch

The abuse of referees on the pitch is commonplace in football at all levels, from Sunday league football to the highest level of the professional game it exists and its long been a problem of epidemic proportions and shows no sign of either being addressed or eradicated.

Jamie Vardy’s recent sending off at the hands of premier league referee John Moss during Leicester City’s 2-2 draw against West Ham only highlights the issue. Vardy was subsequently banned for the sending off and faces potential further punishment for the finger jabbing verbal tirade he launched at Moss. Whether or not Vardy should have been sent off is irrelevant, his reaction to the sending off was unacceptable on a number of levels – professional and human.


The epidemic nature of the problem means that the Vardy sending off, or his response to the sending off, is just the tip of the iceberg. You don’t have to attend a Premier league, Serie A, La Liga or International fixture to witness the nature of the problem, it can be seen at grass roots level at all ages every single week.

What is the problem? Mob mentality and verbal abuse in passing has now appeared to become acceptable as long as its on a football pitch. Day-to-day people are faced with decisions that go against them but don’t jab fingers in faces or launch verbal attacks on those delivering those decisions and if they did nobody would be employed and nobody would have any form of social inclusion.

The sight of referees being surrounded by a group of players, all shouting, swearing and foaming at the mouth, inches away from the face of their target is a damning indictment on those at the top of the game that are allowing the issue to be a persistent one. The sheer level of apathy towards the protection of referees is deplorable and the value of what they are there to do is underestimated and undervalued – no referee, no game.

Managers are often heard using the phrase ‘my players need more protection’ but when is that the case of those employing the referees? Token gestures such as communications at the start of every season conveying a clampdown on such behaviours are as routine as a Jack Wilshere season ending injury but lack any form of authority. The inevitable refereeing decision to light the fire of abuse is quickly followed by the acceptance and apathy of such abuse from those charged with dealing with it.


Chief yes man to the F.A, England manager Roy Hodgson recently leapt to the defence of Jamie Vardy and claimed that Vardy was the “victim of an injustice and should not be castigated for the “human” reaction to being sent off.” What hope do referees have when the person employed in the highest role of the playing side of the national team describes finger jabbing in the direction of another professionals face and verbal abuse as “human”.  What kind of message is that to others in similar professional roles, parents of children playing the game and the children themselves? More importantly, what kind of message is it to the players and to the referees?

Comparisons between football and other sports are consistently made. The discipline within Rugby is often touted as the benchmark where referees have the authority and the players have respect. Its not just Rugby and its not just sport in this country, every single ball game in the United States retain the same level of respect for the officials. Interestingly, comparisons don’t even have to be made between sports, instead a comparison in gender is perhaps more telling. Women’s football is growing ever more popular and they manage to maintain respect for the authority on the pitch, so why can’t the men?


Whether it’s attitudes or gender, mob behaviour and general abuse towards all officials on the pitch is here to stay as long as the powers that be continue to ignore the problem and persist with undermining the very referees they have a duty of care for. Referees have a tough job and sometimes it seems, a thankless one. Rarely are they praised for the things they do right but are consistently lambasted by all corners of the football world for the decisions they get wrong and with little defence. At grass roots level there are many referees that give up their time, unpaid, just to make sure that fixtures are fulfilled, yet they still face the abuse week in-week out.

The problems at elite level football are without doubt mirrored in the grass roots of the game. Children growing up seeing and experiencing the scourge of abuse in the professional ranks will be de-sensitised to the problem and adopt it as acceptable and more concerning, normal.

Jamie Vardy was defended for a human reaction, maybe its time referees were treated as human and given the respect they deserve. Perhaps its time players respected themselves a little more in order for them to respect others and lose the mob mentality on the pitch.

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