According to sister paper The Star, match officials are being abused at all levels of grassroots football in the city, from men’s Sunday league through to women and girls’ competitions, which has, in part, led to a ‘huge shortage’.
Richard Trinder is the referee officer for the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women & Girls League (SHWGL) responsible for overseeing 115 registered refs officiating 290 teams.
In the last week three teenagers – aged 15, 16 and 17 - told him they no longer want to referee due to abuse.
The 16 and 17-year-olds were both allegedly confronted by angry parents in a car park after their respective matches finished.
The 15-year-old reported being ‘constantly undermined’ by the dad of a child playing football, who was supposed to be acting as linesman, but instead shouted at him for what he felt were wrong decisions.
"The abuse has always been there,” said Mr Trinder, aged 61, who has been refereeing for 30 years. "People are more sensitive, the youngsters are more sensitive, but the abuse has got worse from the sidelines.”
A former EFL referee told The Star part of the problem in grassroots football stems from players ‘thinking they are (Christiano) Ronaldo.’
Mr Trinder, who is from Handsworth, added: “Patience has gone, good will has gone, being nice to each other has gone. I don’t have many problems, it’s the junior refs that get the problems. It’s them who we are just losing from the game hand over fist.
"Parents arguing with each other on the sidelines happens quite regularly and they want 15-year-olds to go over and sort that out.”
Rotherham Sunday league secretary Mark Pilley said: “I hear adult-league referees saying they have packed in youth football because of the amount of abuse they get.”
One former Step 3 referee said: “People don’t often understand what it means to be a referee because all they hear are the negatives. I have been involved in FA Cup games, been to some unbelievable places, and made good friends.
"If you want to address a shortage of something then go out and say ‘look how s*** these conditions are’, it’s not going to fix itself.”
“It’s not all bad,” Mr Trinder conceded. "We have some really good teams who are really protective with refs.”
He wants tougher punishments when parents or clubs are found guilty of an offence by their county FA, including bans, as well as distinguishable tops for junior referees to encourage respect and free refereeing courses to incentivise uptake.
Courses currently cost £110, plus a £30 charge to complete a safeguarding course.
"Football has grown massively and refereeing hasn’t kept up,” the former Step 3 official added. "It’s going to be forever and a day for me that there will be a shortage because they haven’t got close to getting the numbers we need.”
"It’s a bit of everything,” Mr Pilley said of the shortage, “lack of courses, cost of courses and the abuse.”
It is thought referee training courses only resumed in August due to the coronavirus pandemic. Otherwise, around 200 further would-be refs could be available locally.
It is also understood many referees leave football every year for various reasons unrelated to abuse.