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  • Writer's picturePaul Struthers

I was wrong, and the need to be nicer to each other

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

In my last blog on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, I wrote: “It may well be - and I certainly hope - that this turns out to be a storm in a teacup, and I expect another “quiet” week this week when the latest Whip Review Committee findings are published this evening or tomorrow morning.
“However I firmly believe that with the Festival upon us that will change…”

How wrong could I have been? At the end of racing’s flagship meeting, a total of 6 suspensions were handed out, three for “technical” offences and three for going one over the permitted level, none for horses ridden by jockeys who won the race. Not one bad headline, no disqualification, and no controversy whatsoever.

All of the jockeys deserve enormous credit but particularly the Irish-based and Amateur jockeys, and the BHA must have been absolutely delighted that any fears people like me had were not borne out.

As is common in life, most people have moved on from the story though the Rules come into force on the Flat for the first time last week and the BHA announced some minor changes that I’m sure will be welcomed by the jockeys.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking the game hasn’t changed. It clearly has, with jockeys most definitely riding differently and with greater caution. Furthermore, let’s not lose sight of the fact there were still 24 suspensions in the last ten days worth 127 days, 10 for 49 in the last three days alone. That's a lot of days on the sidelines.

I'm surprised that jockeys are happy with the way the technical infringements are being policed or the disproportionate penalties for minor offences in big races, but they apparently are and it would appear there’s little to see here and we can all move on.

It'll be nice for me not to have to write about it anymore, and for you not to have to read what I’ve written!


My last blog included for the first time my experiences of refereeing grassroots football, since which time Fulham’s Alexsander Mitrovic has been red carded and charged with violent conduct for making contact with an official and improper, abusive, insulting and/or threatening behaviour. Fulham’s manager Marco Silva was also dismissed and subsequently charged by the FA for using abusive or insulting words or gestures and improper behaviour towards the officials. The hearing takes place today. The whole incident from start to finish can be seen on the BBC website here.

As always on social media, the debate has split into two very partisan camps. The first that says he needs a long ban, the attitude of players and coaches stinks, and that the FA need to get serious about dealing with how referees are treated from the top of the football pyramid to the bottom. The second, whilst condemning their actions, excuse them by saying that it’s an emotional game so their behaviour can be understood, the standard of refereeing in this country is poor so what do you expect and if it was better there wouldn’t be so much abuse.

Regardless of what someone has done, I'll always advocate for fairness when it comes to sports disciplinary matters and proceedings, something which is all too often lacking. For this reason, I can see that “throwing the book” at Mitrovic could be argued as being fundamentally unfair given the continued failure to act on, and general acceptance of, lower levels of abuse and intimidation in the professional game that the Laws say should be dealt with by yellow and red cards.

Looking at the wider issue, I can also see that poor officiating does exist, whether that’s through a poor attitude, communication, positioning, understanding of the laws, a lack of confidence or not enough training. I recognise that officiating decisions, often based on subjective interpretations of the Laws of the Game, and the way VAR has been introduced and used, can and do lead to immense frustration, a frustration I have shared and written about in this blog (though have always tried to ensure I do so fairly, reasonably and respectfully).

Against that, I read about the regular abuse grassroots official are subjected to, have witnessed it first-hand myself as a referee (on rare occasions) and as a coach (from other coaches/spectators) and see it regularly on Twitter whether through comments or from videos that are posted. I know there's a major shortage of referees, and was told on my course that of the 24 on it, on average only two will still be refereeing in a year's time. It's a genuine problem across the sport but particularly at grassroots level.

Outside of incidents of outright aggression, this is where it comes back to the fundamentals of manners and decency. I know when I’m coaching A referee has to leave the pitch for his safety

and see when I’m refereeing – that the

behaviour of the coach is a massive influence on the children. If it’s okay for me to express my frustration then it’s okay for them, which is why it's vital to set a good example.

I know the referee is doing his or her best and isn’t going to get everything right. We all make mistakes and officials are not immune to them, particularly when making split second decisions with no technology to help. But when we get something wrong that is what it is - a mistake - and we'll feel pretty terrible about it too.

It is therefore important for football that the eventual sanctions imposed on Mitrovic and Silva are sufficiently severe to act as a deterrent, but ultimately until the FA gets serious about the wider issues rather than simply making an example of someone, the problems will persist.

As will a “them and us” attitude between players and refs that mirrors so much of modern discourse, which encourages and promotes trenchant, opposite views and isn’t conducive to nuance and balance, which tends to go unnoticed, be misinterpreted or get shouted down. Of course there are times when matters are black and white, but there’s a reason the adage

Recent tweets highlighting officiating errors “two sides to a coin or story” has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

No one should be above criticism, but is it really that hard for us all to be more respectful, tolerant and just fundamentally nicer to each other?


The FA have announced that Mitrovic had been banned for 8 games - 3 for the initial red card, three for violent conduct and two for improper, abusive, insulting and threatening langauge, and was fined £75,000, slightly less than his estimated weekly salary based on Spotrac's estimates.

Marco Silva was banned for two games and fined £40,000 for abusive and insulting words, gestures and behaviour towards the match referee and for his comments in the post-match press conference.

Cue outrage from both sides of the argument - it's either nowhere near enough or way too much, depending on whether you support referees or support Fulham!

On balance and bearing in mind my comments above, it feels about right to me and whilst we await the FA's Independent Regulatory Commission reasons I suspect that the biggest issue for the FA - who have announced they intend to appeal - is their relative acceptance of poor treatment of referees and its failure to take any action whatsoever against Bruno Fernandes, albeit it for a far less serious instance of making contact with an official.

I will write more about this, and the ECB's prosecution of Michael Vaughan and others, in my next blog.


As for my own refereeing, due to poor weather and an unfortunate incident yesterday (more on that later) I’ve only been in the centre once, in an enjoyable and predominantly good spirited U14s Cup Quarter Final. It was all pleasantly uneventful for the most part, once again the attitude of the coaches filtering down to their players and there being no issues as a result, despite the apparent gap in abilities of the two teams.

I did potentially miss an off the ball incident as I was focused on the player with the ball, and the Red Team’s captain (on whom the alleged fouled had been committed) wasn’t best pleased, but I explained I couldn’t give something for something I heard (a clipping of heels and someone falling to the ground) but didn’t see. I turned away and heard him use the word “cheat” under his breath and he looked so scared when I turned back I was happy to accept that he was referring to the player who fouled him.

I also missed a Blue Team player potentially kicking the ball away and delaying the restart of play (lesson to self – jog backwards into position after awarding a goal kick).

Worst of all for my dignity was taking a full force clearance square in the groin, much to the amusement of the spectators, players and coaches. It was my own fault for being poorly positioned too close to the action, and at least it meant that the Red Team’s captain (for it was he who kicked it) got his revenge on me, entirely accidentally.

There was also one controversial moment that on some days might have kicked off but thankfully didn’t. Blue Team’s goalkeeper had been taking very short goal kicks to their centre back (and captain), who was very good and would either pick a pass or dribble it out. Late on in the game, the keeper puts ball down, casually rolls the ball with the bottom of his foot and walks away, in my mind suggesting he's taken the kick. The centre back didn't move, so the keeper turned round and kicked it again, no more than a yard. To me he’d clearly played the ball twice so I blew the whistle and awarded an indirect free kick to the Red Team, who weren't closing down (nearest player 20 plus yards away) so there was no need for me to consider any action beyond the award of the free kick.

The keeper and centre back enquired politely and looked surprised, but I explained what I’d seen, why I’d awarded it (to me the keeper walking away after rolling the ball with his foot was crucial) and, credit to them, they accepted the decision gracefully, as did their team mates and coaches.

The Red Team scored from the subsequent and maybe the Blue Team would not have been so accepting if they hadn't already been winning easily at that point. After the game I made a point to speak to the coach, keeper and captain to explain my decision again and thank them for how they dealt with it. I said to the keeper that only he knew whether or not he’d done it on purpose. If he had then I got it right and if I hadn’t then it was my subjective call and I hope he at least understood where I was coming from.

I got a nice message from the coach post-match but I’m not so naïve that this run of easy to manage matches will continue!

Which leads me on to yesterday the “unfortunate incident” that prevented me from refereeing. I was allocated to officiate an U12s Cup Quarter Final. The fixture had been postponed twice due to waterlogging and the rules of the competition require the venue to change, with the home team becoming the away team. I turned up in plenty of time and went to introduce myself to the now home coach, who asked me why I was there as he hadn’t contacted me and had appointed his own referee. No apology and a completely wasted 60 mile round trip.

What was that I was saying about being nice to each other?

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