After a Covid-hit year for grassroots football, the amateur game on Merseyside is now facing another crisis point – but this time over a shortage of match officials.
With many clubs struggling to ensure their fixtures carry on, footballing boards have come together to try and resolve the problem.
Some weekends, club bosses say up to 40% of referees registered have been unavailable.
And clubs like Merseyside Business House League Division 5 side Princess Park Rangers are now battling to play enough games required.
Princess Park club founder Barney Hope said: “Due to a combination of factors, including reappointments to FA Games, work commitments, illness, as many as 40% of the referees we have on our list are not available.
“We are in constant dialogue with LCFA to try and sort this out – but there is no immediate resolution.
“We are looking to clubs to identify individuals who would be interested in attending a Referee Familiarisation meeting, and maybe if so, inclined go on to take the full referee qualification.
“We would like to build up a team of “reserve officials” who we can call on when we are unable to appoint from our main list – which at the moment is happening every week.”
Dave Wiggins, who runs twitter page ‘These Don’t Wanna Know’@Thesewanna, a sideways look at grassroots and non-league in the region, believes verbal abuse received by officials is one of the main issues.
“It appears to be a country-wide issue but is very marked on Merseyside,” he said.
“There could be several reasons, but the absolute core issue is the verbal abuse from players and touchlines – both at junior and adult grassroots fixtures.
“These days – compared to my playing days – far fewer people are signing up to become a referee.
“In its simplest form, who would want to pay for the course, knowing full well the stick you are potentially going to receive the moment you blow your very first whistle.
“Player – and spectator – conduct is a definite factor in referees declaring their non-availability.
“At the moment, there are so few referees locally, that I’ve heard of willing officials doing four or even five games per weekend.
“Higher up the Step system, the abuse is still prevalent, but at least the referees have their assistants to, for example, flag the offsides (an impossible task for the lone ref).
“Some of the most vitriolic comments I have ever heard aimed at match officials have been at non-league games.
“From Twitter, it appears to be Sundays that are hardest hit.
“There are so few Saturday leagues on Merseyside, now, that all the fixtures appear to be covered.
“Come Friday, my Twitter account sadly features numerous requests from clubs, whose league has been unable to appoint enough referees to cover all fixtures.
“A sorry state of affairs indeed.”
You can follow Dave’s Twitter @thesewanna.
To contribute to the aid of referee shortages, you can visit thefa.com website to sign up.