FOUL-MOUTHED fans have been blamed for a fresh shortage of referees that has left the Griffith District Football Association desperate for new blood.
Just four first-grade officials have committed to the new season but it is the lack of juniors coming through the ranks that has prompted calls for clubs to make a stand against abusive supporters.
While most sports put out the call for more referees on an annual basis, football grapples with a unique problem – when the intense passion of diehard fans goes too far.
GDFA referees boss Mark Feltracco said while the senior whistleblowers are thick-skinned enough to deal with it, he was in no doubt the constant slurs from the sidelines have contributed to the thinning numbers of junior refs.
“I really think it does,” Feltracco told The Area News.
“A coach knows they’ll get dragged in by the association and dealt with but the spectators think they can just stand there and yell abuse.
“Why would a junior do it when they cop it from these guys?
“The passion is one of the best things about the game in Griffith but there’s a line – when you start getting on the back of referees, and the junior referees, it’s a different thing.
“It’s got to come back on the clubs as well, they need to stand up and tell the spectators that they won’t put up with that anymore.”
Feltracco has been backed by Leeton United president Rod Harrison, who also believes it is up to the clubs to take leadership on the issue.
“The refs do a wonderful job but they need help from clubs to help the referees out by stopping the abuse so the younger ones aren’t walking away,” he said.
“There’s not many of them, they get tired after doing multiple games and that’s when mistakes happen.
“I’m not saying our club is a saint, but while I’ve been in charge I’ve been working hard to stamp that out from within our club. I think I’m getting there, but there’s more we can improve on.
“In saying that, the referees also need to be more proactive themselves and look at bringing in refs from outside the area to hold courses for juniors and do something for themselves.”
But GDFA president Mathew Curran believes the abuse comes with the territory.
“It’s not easy out there – that might be but the refs hold the cards in their pocket. They can use them,” he said.
“There’s plenty of that but you get that in all codes. You’ve just got to deal with it.
“We pay well above Football NSW’s standard rate because we know they do a good job. We just need more.
“A young kid would earn more money refereeing on a Saturday than he would working at the supermarket.”
Curran declared his first preference would be to see more Griffith youngsters, former players and imports undertake refereeing courses to help out with the shortage.
But if that can’t be arranged, Curran is ready to look out of town for a solution – and even abroad.
“We may have to look at it at a club level and have each club provide four or five juniors to do a course,” he said.
With the introduction of the Eastern Wanderers, it is possible Wagga may be able to provide three or four referees to look after GDFA games in that town.
However, the GDFA may need to cover travel expenses to get them over to Griffith for matches that don’t involve the new Wagga-based club.
Feltracco said despite the unavoidable scrutiny from the stands, there is plenty of appeal in becoming a referee.
Local youngster Dean Burge is a prime example – the teenager was spotted by Football NSW referees boss and A-League official Kris Griffiths-Jones while in charge of a lower-grade game and has since been offered development opportunities in Sydney.
“In a few years time he can aspire to referee A-League games and even one step bigger and go to the World Cup,” Feltracco said.
“That’s probably a good one for the young boys to look up to and see how he’s gone from here to a couple of Sydney games and come back better for it.”