Football referees in the Channel Island are taking ‘unprecedented’ strike action in protest at the level of abuse they receive.
Officials in Jersey say they hope the wider football community will take notice of the stand they are making against the ‘unacceptable’ bad behaviour of players, coaches and supporters.
The drastic measures were announced by the Jersey Football Referees Association and will see dozens of officials taking the weekend off.
All this weekend’s games – including a potential title decider between the island’s main rivals – will be affected.
It comes after several recent incidents including on Saturday where a record ten red cards were issued in 12 games – including two for violent conduct in a match that was abandoned and five for verbal abuse of referees.
Sources say referees are regularly subjected to homophobic and racist abuse while three teenage officials were forced to lock themselves in a changing room after facing prolonged abuse by junior players and supporters.
There was also a further physical assault on a referee that led to a lengthy player ban earlier this month.
Jersey Football Combination president Charlie Brown said: “This has got to send a message out to football – surely?
“It is about time people woke up and realised what is going on and take action.
“I am fully supportive of the referees. They should be able to go out and enjoy games and I can see why they are making a stand.
“I fully understand that as a referee myself. Enough is enough.
“Games will still go ahead on Saturday as it is down to a home team to supply an official if one is not appointed for their match.
“I certainly hope clubs react in the right way as well because we all want to see good games of football.”
The Jersey Football Referees Association (JFRA) said on recent incident saw three teenage officials locked themselves in a changing room after a match following “prolonged insults from some junior players, their coach and also some parents/supporters.”
The sustained level of abuse is what led the JFRA to announce that no officials will be available for matches this weekend.
The action will affect all fixtures in Jersey, including the game between the island’s top two sides, St Paul’s and St Peter, which could decide who wins the league title.
Announcing the strike action, the association president Paul Daniel said: “It was agreed that a message needs to be sent out to clubs, players of all ages, managers/coaches, parents and spectators that such incidents can no longer be tolerated, and if we don’t act now island football will lose more referees which it simply cannot afford to do.
“We acknowledge that there are many good people working in the game, but their good works are being tarnished by too many people.
“Following a lengthy debate a decision was taken to ask referees to make themselves unavailable for any appointments this coming weekend.
“Sadly the severity of recent events had led us to take this action, but hopefully this alone will make everybody in the game consider their actions and the potential consequences.
“Referees of all levels have been subjected to continued misconduct including that physical assault and lots of insulting and offensive abuse, often of a sexually inappropriate nature, which then become serious safeguarding and welfare issues.”
The action has been backed by politicians and Senator Steve Pallett, the Assistant Economic Development Minister, who has special responsibility for sport said Jersey must rally behind its striking football referees.
He said: “I have every sympathy for the stance they are taking.
“All those involved in football that want the profile of football to improve need to rally behind our local referees and, where possible, deal internally with players that continue to abuse referees both verbally and physically, so that everyone can enjoy football locally.
“It’s not a new problem. It was around when I played, but the level of abuse by this sad minority seems to have become worse and that is simply unacceptable.
“Everyone in football – players, coaches, managers, club officials, supporters and, of course, referees – have a part to play in improving the current situation. As a former player and lover of football, if we want to attract young players to stay in the game, or in some cases return after a spell away, it’s important that discipline on the field takes as high a priority as it does in other sports.’
Jersey’s football authorities have been trying to deal with indiscipline in the island game for some years.
An investigation was launched after one club walked off in protest at a referee’s decision in 2015 and they were later suspended and left the league.
It prompted long-time referee Mark Le Cornu to resign from his role as a league vice-president.
And last September last year was saw a day dubbed ‘Red Saturday’ when 10 red cards were shown in 12 games on the island – compared just four reds in the 54 matches in England’s top four divisions on the same day.
The Jersey Football Association said it was aware of the problem but said the referee strike was ‘the wrong course of action’.
A spokesperson said: “There are disciplinary sanctions in place to tackle bad behaviour:
“These disciplinary measures are apportioned in line with clear guidelines from the Football Association.
“Just last week a disciplinary hearing banned a local player for six months for grabbing a referee’s shirt and aggressive conduct.
“Whilst the current problems with indiscipline lie largely at the feet of a small minority of participants, referees themselves do need to take some responsibility and agree a code of consistency which the JFA has been pushing for since the start of this season.
“Assaults on officials, intimidation of referees and verbal abuse are, clearly, unacceptable and we will continue work with the Jersey Football Association Referees’ Committee in an attempt to improve the game we all love.”