It’s fair to say that collectively the whole of the Staffordshire Football community were delighted when the 2021/22 season got underway, with Players, Coaches, Referees, Administrators, and Spectators, all excited to see grassroots football return following 18 months of disruptions.
Initial fears that we may lose participants due to the pandemic, has thankfully proved not to be the case, with the grassroots game in Staffordshire maintaining a healthy number of teams and players across all age groups.
We have unfortunately seen a decline in the number of registered referees and are working hard to address this issue, via the delivery of targeted courses and initiatives which will continue over the coming weeks and months. Since the summer of 2021, we have supported over 260 new referees through their initial training course and are now collectively working together to ensure that these new referees are integrated into the league networks and suitably mentored as they embark upon their refereeing journeys.
There are various reasons why we have seen a drop-off in the number of match officials from last season, but it would be fair to say that unwelcome behaviour at a minority of fixtures each week, may be one of the reasons we have seen a decline in the number of referees. Collectively, we all have a responsibility to make the grassroots game in Staffordshire as enjoyable as it can be – not just for match officials – but for everyone involved in the game, both on and off the pitch.
Close to a thousand games of affiliated football take place in Staffordshire each week, and whilst the vast majority of games are played in the right spirit, there is a minority of games each week which unfortunately incur red cards, misconduct, and general poor behaviour. Although these incidents are thankfully in the minority, we have seen a worrying rise in poor behaviour since the start of the 2021/22 season, something we collectively need to address.
Whilst many people associate poor discipline with players on the pitch, we are in fact seeing an alarming rise in poor behaviour off the field, involving coaches, parents, and spectators. The behaviour of adults at youth matches is creating a bigger problem than poor behaviour on the field; these adults must take responsibility for their actions.
We know that good behaviour makes for a great game, and if we are to encourage more people to get involved in the grassroots game, whether that be players, coaches, referees, or volunteers, we must all play our part to ensure that this rise in poor behaviour improves as we head into the New Year.
Staffordshire FA recently met with all affiliated leagues across the county, both youth and adult, to discuss this issue, and as a collective we will be working together in 2022 to implement various initiatives and actions which can positively impact on reducing poor behaviour, ensuring that we create a positive environment for everyone involved in the grassroots game.
A working group made up of Staffordshire FA and League representatives is being created to address this area of work, as we collectively look at actions which can reduce poor practice, including the potential removal of players and teams from affiliated football, whilst also recognising and celebrating the good practice which is displayed by the vast majority.
We are all in agreement that the minority of individuals and teams who continually display poor behaviour, impacts negatively on the majority. Over 96% of games take place every weekend with no red cards or misconduct, and we cannot and will not allow the minority to spoil the beautiful game for the majority.
In recent weeks several individuals across the county have received significant bans from the game, which should act as a warning and deterrent to other individuals and teams, whilst also reassuring the majority of participants that the Staffordshire FA and network of affiliated leagues are determined to eradicate poor behaviour from the game.
The discipline process is in place to protect participants across the grassroots game, and we will continue to embrace the processes and sanctions available to us to remove serious offenders from the game.
As we head into the New Year, please can we ask all clubs across the county to remind your players, coaches, and spectators, to play their part in creating an enjoyable environment on matchdays for the benefit of everyone involved in the grassroots game across Staffordshire.
Let’s ensure that we all play our part.
A collective message on behalf of Staffordshire Football.
Coors Sunday League
Lichfield & District Recreational League
Lichfield & Walsall District Sunday League
Mid Staffs Junior League
North Staffs Junior Youth League
North Staffs Youth League
Potteries & District Sunday League
Stafford & District Sunday League
Staffordshire Ability Counts League
Staffordshire County Senior League
Staffordshire FA Flexible Football Leagues
Staffordshire Girls & Ladies League
Staffordshire Junior Football League
Uttoxeter & District Sunday League
Walsall Junior Youth League