Slowly but surely, the new season is starting to come to life. Players are starting to sign for their new clubs, the pre-season matches are coming to an end, and by next weekend we’ll be off and running in the Football League and the Conference. For one amateur club, however, not only the new season has come to an end before a ball has been kicked but, at present, the entire playing squad have been banned for life. The FA have spent quite a while making a big deal of their new “respect agenda”, and the decision taken in this would seem to indicate that they have instructed their county subsiduaries to come down hard on clubs that break the rules.
It all started to go wrong for Birmingham-based club Hall Green Colts when they had a player sent off in a match in the Coronation Sunday Football League last season. The ejected player had been sent off for abusing a match official, and rather took objection to the red card that he was given. He reportedly came back onto the pitch and spat in the face of the unfortunate official. What happened next beggars belief. According to a report in this morning’s “Non-League Today”, the club deliberately refused to submit a report to the county FA, meaning that perpetrator couldn’t be identified. With this in mind, the FA have banned all twenty-two of the players in the club’s squad until he has been identified.
Such a decision is hardly unsurprising. Of the many crises facing the Sunday League game at present, one of the most pressing is the lack of match officials coming through. Referees have to undergo considerable training and go to considerable amounts of trouble in order to officiate matches, only to receive a paltry £25 for their trouble, and very little thanks otherwise. To see a referee treated in such a way on a Sunday morning is, sadly, no great surprise. The perception has come about that refereeing at that level is more trouble than it’s worth and, when one reads of stories such as the above, it’s hardly surprising.
The irony is that it is often the very people that get into situations that Hall Green Colts have found themselves in that are the ones that will suffer the most. The number of players at that level has been falling steadily for years, and it seems likely that this downward spiral will continue for the time being. When I was involved in the running of a football league, the biggest single problem was finding enough people to referee matches. Referees woul often refuse to deal with certain teams that had caused them trouble before, their primary objection usually being that it wasn’t worth the trouble of getting up at 8.00 on a Sunday morning and receiving a couple of hours of abuse for a tiny amount of money. Leagues do try to support referees, but it is difficult to find people willing to work as unpaid volunteers, checking up on the behaviour of clubs. There are still plenty of clubs that intimidate both opposing players and officials into winning league championships every season.
Its easy to scoff at the FA’s Respect initiative. At the top end of the game, where there are millions watching, trying to do something about the petulance of footballers is a cleaning up exercise. At the very foot of the game, however, where there are no spectators and no media reports, there are clearly still players and clubs that are acting in an atrocious way, and the FA should be congratulated on finally standing up and taking some action against them. Hall Green Colts’ code of silence has cost them very dear, but it’s very difficult to have much sympathy for them.