Football governance must be overhauled to better represent the interests of referees if incidents like the one involving Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic at Old Trafford on Sunday are to be stamped out, according to the chief of the Referee’s Association.
Paul Field, whose organisation supports and offers welfare for referees at grassroots level in England, says that an example must be made of Mitrovic after he was sent off for pushing referee Chris Kavanagh during his side’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup.
On Monday, the Football Association charged the 28-year-old with “abusive and/or insulting and/or threatening behaviour” towards Kavanagh when he was sent off in the 71st minute for protesting a red card for team-mate Willian, who had just conceded a penalty for handball on the goal line.
Fulham boss Marco Silva was also charged over his reaction to the referee’s decision on Willian, after he was sent from the touchline by Kavanagh for insulting the referee and fourth official.
The FA is yet to announce the length of Mitrovic’s ban, but said in a statement that “the standard punishment that would otherwise apply for the offence of violent conduct towards the match official is clearly insufficient”.
A straight red card normally brings a suspension of three games.
“They need to set a powerful example that says ‘this is not acceptable’,” said Field, who highlighted the disparity between sanctions imposed at the grassroots and professional level.
“At the Dog and Duck, if someone thumps a referee, they’re looking at five years. The professional game is so out of touch with what happens with the majority of football.
“Everyone’s focus is on the Premier League and the 90-odd professional clubs. What about the other couple of hundred thousand that play all over the country?
“At grassroots level we’d be bitterly disappointed if that offence (by Mitrovic) got only a year.
“The Football Association are world class at non-delivery. Culturally, the FA doesn’t understand how disillusioned the refereeing workforce is.
“I’ve got colleagues going out this Sunday refereeing, from 14 to 82 years of age. What you saw on Sunday is what they face almost every week locally.”
Field’s main grievance is that underinvestment in refereeing at grassroots level has diminished the respect shown for officials at the elite level and that football structures are stacked in favour of backing clubs and their players at the expense of referees.
“It’s the clubs and the players that are represented by the FA Council (the body that decides major policy decisions of the FA).
“It’s about 130 people and 110 of them are representing the interests of the clubs and the players. The Referee’s Association has one vote in that whole pond of how football is run.”
He gives an example of initiatives to do with refereeing that have been cut down by the power of Premier League clubs.
Field added: “Ten years ago, it was agreed that referees would pull up any pushing and pulling at corners.
“After about seven games, when there had been about three penalties a game, the clubs went to the Premier League and said ‘we can’t have this international spectacle ruined by turning matches into penalty shoot-outs’.
“The Premier League influence means refereeing is controlled because it’s a global, £6billion spectacle. There are too many vested interests.
“It’s decades of underinvestment in respect for officialdom and in refereeing. The budget at the FA for refereeing in grassroots is about £1.2million.
“That includes the salaries of the administrators at Wembley. For the PGMOL who look after the elite referees, it’s about £27million.
“When it comes to the career path of a 14-year-old, they’re almost wholly reliant on a volunteer workforce, which is taken for granted. It only works because of volunteers, not because of anything the FA does.”