A BURTON man honoured by the Queen for his role in shaping refereeing in the town has said more needs to be done to protect football’s man in the middle – after an incident during an amateur game saw a 63-year-old referee spend two days in hospital after being allegedly head-butted by a player during a game.
Lou Jones, who is president of Burton Football Association and served for four decades as a referee, said the incident involving Dave Clarke, during a match between Eton Athletic and Real Medina FC at the weekend, could lead to budding young referees steering clear of the game.
He said the number of registered referees in the area had plummeted by 60 per cent in the past year and that violence on football pitches could see the number drop even further.
He said: “The game has changed so very much now on all levels, but acts of violence against match officials should never, ever be tolerated.
“These people are often giving up their weekends to help others enjoy a game of football for little more than a few pounds and expenses. They should not feel threatened – that something might happen to them.
“If there are youngsters out there thinking about becoming referees, it is a worry that they could be turned away from the game.”
Mr Jones, who was awarded an MBE for services to the community in 2010, said discipline in amateur football had ‘fallen off a cliff’ since he stopped refereeing at the age of 72.
He added: “There used to be a lot more gamesmanship between teams but that seems to have gone now.
“I think that discipline levels have dropped a lot recently and can also be linked to the behaviour of modern footballers people watch on the television every single week.”
Mr Jones believes discipline issues could also lead to the end of amateur football in the future, if the problem is not addressed.
“It is putting people off, it is as simply as that,” he said.
“We have a great level of young football in the area but this it is not progressing to men’s football.
“I think more needs to be done at the very top of the game to make it more disciplined and this will eventually work its way down to amateur level.
“Burton Saturday and Sunday leagues used to be one of the biggest and best in the country.
“If changes are not made at the highest of highs in the game, we could see it come to an end and this is something that would be very sad and should not be allowed to happen.”
Mr Jones’ views were echoed by Birmingham County FA, which oversees football in Burton, and is responsible for maintaining discipline at grass roots level.
Officials at the league are currently investigating the incident, which took place on Saturday afternoon, but reminded players, coaches and spectators that acts of violence are not welcome on the football pitch.
The Football Association (FA) also plays a huge part in trying to make sure referees from the very top of the game to the bottom rungs are safe while on the pitch.
A spokesman for the FA said: “Respect is the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football to create a fair, safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take place.
“The key message remains that it is never acceptable to confront a referee in any way.”