Norfolk FA calls for more to take up the whistle as Referee shortage poses a serious threat to local football fixtures
Norfolk is currently experiencing a serious challenge regarding referee coverage across the County’s grassroots football scene, a problem which is causing great concern to Norfolk County Football Association and its sanctioned leagues.
The issue Norfolk FA, other County FA’s, and leagues up and down the country are facing, stems quite simply from a mismatch in numbers – there are not enough Referees to cover the amount of games taking place.
As it stands, there are 86 match officials who have not re-registered for the 2021-22 season in Norfolk. That’s 86 qualified Referees who were registered during the most recent campaign, that have now left the game.
Whilst the turnover figure is not unusual, with Referee retention being a longer-term improvement target across the country, the difference is that due to the Coronavirus Pandemic there has been a period of 18 months in which no Referee Courses have been delivered. As such, the annual loss of officials is felt more so, with no cohort of newly qualified officials ready to take their place.
Last weekend in Norfolk around 20 fixtures which should have had a qualified match official appointed were left ‘uncovered’, leaving home teams to find their own through willing yet unqualified volunteers.
To try and address the issue and ensure matches are being covered across the County, Norfolk FA are calling on people to take up the whistle louder than ever before. Having already delivered one FA Referee course this season, the Governing Body has organised four more courses to take place over the next two months, all over the County.
The FA Referee Course is designed to equip new referees with the key skills and knowledge they will need to be able to referee grassroots football matches safely and effectively. It is for people aged 14 and over and suitable for officiating in mini soccer, 9 v 9 and/or 11 v 11 football.
The course comprises of online learning and face to face training with the latter part totalling one day and one evening. As part of the training, participants can begin taking appointments and after five fixtures gain Qualified Referee status.
Norfolk FA’s Head of Football Services, Matt Lemmon, said: “Grassroots football is currently experiencing a challenging period within the refereeing sphere, not just in Norfolk but across the country. After what has been a difficult 18 months, it is vital for our match official coverage that we run the upcoming courses and add to our existing refereeing workforce, who I thank for their ongoing commitment.
“It is an exciting time to be a part of grassroots football in Norfolk as we rebuild after the pandemic and we encourage those interested in becoming a referee to grasp the opportunity with both hands.”
Norfolk FA are running the courses in a variety of locations across the County, namely Holt, East Harling, King’s Lynn and Norwich; and the cost (£125) includes access to all training modules and equipment, and the candidate’s Referee Registration fee for the first season.
Newly qualified Referees can begin earning the course fee back straight away, with Referees in Norfolk being provided with remuneration in the region of £25 plus mileage per game.
However, it’s not just about the money, with many Ref’s citing a host of benefits that come from getting involved, including social benefits, a sense of community, improved fitness and wellbeing, valuable skills and experience, and even a genuine career path.
Norfolk Level 5 Referee Rob Bunting said: “As a player I only ever graced district leagues and I was happy with that. Since I've been involved with refereeing, I've had the chance to be involved with the FA Cup, FA Youth Cup, FA Vase and Thurlow Nunn Premier - levels of football I never thought I could be involved with!
“Refereeing has also taught me valuable man-management skills which I've actually found useful and transferable to my workplace. Life is very hectic with work and kids and refereeing is my wind down time, my hobby to relax. And to think we get paid for it too, for me, there are no downsides!"
Whilst many may know of the successes of World Cup Assistant Referee Darren Cann, Lee Betts is also a well-known face on Match of the Day now, having been an Assistant Referee in the Premier League for a number of years. Whilst Dan Robathan who resides in Norwich assisted 30 fixtures in the Premier League last season, having first been appointed as Assistant Referee in the Football League in 2011 at the age of just 22.
Norfolk FA’s Referee Development Officer Harvey Newstead, who himself is an aspiring Level 4 Referee as well as a National List Level 1 Futsal Referee, commented on the opportunities within officiating: "There is no better time to take up the whistle and start refereeing in Norfolk. The opportunities are endless, and refereeing allows you to gain transferable skills for use on and off the pitch.
“If you are thinking about becoming a referee, whether that’s to support your local youth club, get a bit fitter, earn some extra money, or to aim for Premier League fame; myself and the referee community in Norfolk will be here to support you.
“I would also like to thank all our referees who have re-registered for the 2021-22 season and are committed to picking up the whistle each week in Norfolk Football.”
The full details of the FA Referee Courses running in Norfolk are below:
Holt Football Club (Holt)
- Dates: Sunday 17 October 2021, 9am – 5pm & Wednesday 20 October 2021, 6pm – 9pm
East Harling Football Club (East Harling)
- Dates: Monday 25 October 2021, 6pm – 9pm & Wednesday 27 October 2021, 9am – 5pm
William Burt Social Club (King’s Lynn)
- Dates: Friday 29 October 2021, 6pm – 9pm & Sunday 31 October 2021, 9am – 5pm
theFDC, Bowthorpe (Norwich)
- Dates: Friday 5 November 2021, 6pm – 9pm & Sunday 7 November 2021, 9am – 5pm
If you have any questions about refereeing football in Norfolk, please contact Norfolk FA Referee Development Officer, Harvey Newstead, on Harvey.Newstead@NorfolkFA.com.