This past week has once again seen the focus and conversations well and truly centred upon and around behaviour within grassroots football.
It is important to stress from the outset that, as a County FA, all forms of abuse or unacceptable behaviour, whether on or off the field of play, is completely insupportable.
However, I feel that often there is an easy and sweeping narrative around standards of behaviour in grassroots football and that I therefore need to provide some local context and some balance around this priority area of work for ourselves as a County FA.
Whilst it is true that we have seen a small increase in the number of cases reported to us around behaviour, these have mainly been around low level, undesirable behaviour (shouting, arguing etc.), rather than unacceptable behaviour including discrimination, threats or actual violent acts or behaviours), which thankfully in Cumberland remain rare.
Based on our discipline data as of the 9th January 2023, this season, 99% of the 3,250 games that have been played within our leagues have been played without any reported misconduct, which means that most of our games and those involved in them, whether players, coaches, or spectators, are played within a positive football environment.
Even though it would therefore appear to only be a small, vocal, minority that we are dealing with, we understand that one serious incident can be enough to dramatically impact a referee, or a player and so we must continue to try and address the problematic few that display undesirable or unacceptable behaviour that tarnishes our beautiful game.
We can’t do this alone and are therefore appealing to the silent majority that are and remain well behaved to take responsibility where they can and to shake, metaphorically not physically, this minority. Make them accountable for their undesired or unacceptable behaviour. Make them understand the consequences of what they say or how they behave. Because, without your support, change is harder and more unlikely.
And why would you do this? Because you are good people, who love the game and often those participating within it, and so want what is best for the sport and the football family.
So, to those people we ask you to take a stand with us. To take responsibility for your own and for others linked to your clubs’ behaviours, thus ensuring that the football environment that our players and referees participate within, is a safe and supportive one.
We ask that you play your part in instilling a positive behavioural culture within your grassroots football club by, if you’re a player or coach, continuing to be welcoming, inclusive, and respectful to your teammates, officials, and opposition; and if you are a parent/spectator to remain encouraging and positive in your support.
We ask that you constructively challenge or report to your club welfare officer anyone within your own clubs and teams not showing suitable levels of behaviour or in displaying any of the undesired behaviour that we are increasingly witnessing and make the game unenjoyable for all, including persistent arguing and negative shouting from spectators on the side lines and frustration and squabbles in the pitch.
And finally, we ask that if you see any unacceptable behaviours, such as discriminatory actions or words, or any acts of aggression, that this is reported to your club and to ourselves.
If you can do this and we, as a County FA, continue to promote positive behaviours through our campaigns and communications, starting this weekend with the Silent Support Weekend with our three youth leagues; provide education and support to those who have, for whatever reason, displayed low level undesirable behaviour to highlight what impact these actions may have on those around them in the hope that we can then influence them and their future behaviour; and where necessary discipline and sanction any individuals who demonstrate undesirable or unacceptable behaviour.
Then, together, we can protect the game and ensure that more people become involved and remain within the game, in whatever capacity, and therefore have the chance to experience its unique power to deliver amazing benefits to individuals and their respective communities.
MORE: SILENT SUPPORT WEEKEND