Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey has warned that “we could see a suicide” of a match official if the footballing authorities do not do more to support them through the immense pressure that they are placed under.
Writing in his autobiography, Halsey pleaded with the game’s elite to help officials to deal with stress and the spotlight that they are placed under by the media. Halsey became one of England’s top referees during a career spanning fourteen years and retired at the end of last season.
Mental health issues are often discussed with regard to players, but the attention on referees is often dismissed and Halsey has spoken of his fears that one of his former colleagues could soon suffer a nervous breakdown.
The rise of social media has made the problem a more prevalent threat, and Halsey received vitriolic abuse on Twitter last season after he officiated Liverpool’s 2-1 loss to Manchester United.
One possibility open to the FA is opening a clinic for referees like the one available to players to deal with personal problems such as mental health issues or gambling addictions.
The PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) binds referees together into one board, but there is little help available. Halsey revealed that Mike Riley, a former referee and the head of PGMOL phoned him to offer support after last season’s abuse, but other than that he was left to battle the stress alone.
A significant proportion of the issue lies in the fact that should they make a mistake, referees are publicly reprimanded in the form of their decisions being reversed, or by moving them down to the Football League for the following weekend’s fixtures.
On the flip side, however, there is scarce public backing when referees are barracked by supporters, managers and even clubs themselves.
Chelsea publicly accused Mark Clattenburg of racism after an on-field row with midfielder John Obi Mikel, but the referee was subsequently cleared by both the police and the FA who found no evidence whatsoever to back up the claim.
The introduction of goal-line technology this season has aided referees a great deal, though they are still bound to face taunts from the terraces and strict analysis by the media.
The humble referee is perhaps the most strenuous of all jobs in the game, and the FA and Premier League must heed Halsey’s warnings and begin to take measures to support match officials before it’s too late.
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