Complaints about your refereeing
Should you know about them?
A couple of recent cases in our football have highlighted concerns on the procedures for
dealing with complaints by clubs, players (and others e.g. Council Members) about the
performance of referees during a match.
The FA Guide to Marking Referees (Pg 142 FA Handbook Season 2008/9) states – “When a
mark of 60 or lower is awarded, an explanation must be provided to the Competition using
the box provided on the marking form. The purpose of this is to assist referees to improve their
performance levels, so the comments should be as helpful as possible.”
(Incidentally, there seems to be a discrepancy between the FA and the AFA guidance on
the minimum mark requiring a report – the AFA and AFC Handbooks both say a mark of ’50’
rather than ’60’. I could find no guidance on Referee Marking in the SAL Handbook.)
But the key issues of these Club reports/complaints, in the same way as individual club
marks are not disclosed, is that there is no requirement on the Referees Secretary of League,
Cup or the County to advise the referee or seek his comments. Nor is there any deterrent
against so called ‘vexatious’ complaints where there is a history of grudge, revenge-seeking or
Reasons for Discretion
Now there may be very good reasons for leaving action on many of these reports/complaints
to the discretion of the Referee Secretary. He will know the club, the referee and/or the
complainant involved. He will be aware of the clubs that routinely complain about the referee
when they lose, but he is likely to take more notice if they have won. The complaint may be
about a single match incident or may be seen immediately to be mistaken in Law. He can see
if the complaint is a ‘one-off’ or forms a consistent pattern. He would be aware of people
carrying personal grudges against individual referees or even referees in general. (Yes, I know
it is hard to believe,but there are even one or two of those!) And he can check the complaint
against the mark given by the other team in the same match, and the referee’s marks in his/her
I understand that, on this discretionary basis, 80-90% of club complaints about referee
performance are referred back to the club or effectively ignored. The credible complaints he
might refer to the appropriate County CEO or RDO for development, or for consideration in
Need for a clear and open procedure
However, the referee does not necessarily know about the complaint, nor is he/she
routinely asked for their comments. Accepting that some referees would not want to see these
complaints, I feel that, in an increasingly litigious and data-protective society, non-disclosure
could be the source of potential problems for the future unless a clear and open procedure is
AFA Argus Made Up Pages: AFA Argus Made Up Pages 6/4/09 16:22 Page 12
The areas of concern are that (i) the Referee Secretary may keep the complaint ‘on file’ – in
case he gets further similar complaints about that referee.
This file will consist, over time, of negative comments with no compensating response from
the referee. There is no procedure for collecting and filing positive reports on a referee’s
performance, other than his marks.
(ii) the Referee Secretary may refer the complaint to his League Referees Committee or to the
County Referees Committee if he judges the complaint serious or one of a series of similar
complaints. There does not seem to be an automatic procedure for requesting the referee’s
comments on the complaint before either the referral or the consideration by the Committee.
In a recent incident, a County Referees Committee discussed a complaint against a referee
by a Council Member. The Committee Minute named the referee and said – “The complaint
was noted and would remain on file.” The referee was not aware that a complaint had been
made to the County. Nor was he advised of the result. But inevitably he found out in a less
than satisfactory way after the event through the grapevine. And what are the implications of
the complaint remaining “on file” if it had been agreed that no action was necessary?
This is a difficult area where some discretion should properly be left with Referees
Secretaries. And we want to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy. But with individuals now having
the right under the Data Protection Act to see whatever material is held on file, it would seem
sensible and protective of the interests of both Referee Secretaries and Referees to:-
(i) ask for the referee’s comments on all (credible) club complaints
(ii) ensure that all complaints on file have an added note of :-
(a) the decision taken by the Secretary or Committee and
(b) the reason for that decision.
(iii) introduce a fee for lodging any complaint or report about a referee to deter ‘vexatious’,
known history of grudge or biased complaints (in the same way as a £20 deposit is required
for any protest on other matters to the County or League) which would be forfeit if the
complaint is deemed unjustified.
First published in April 2009
By Patrick Morrissey