As the excitement builds as we count down to the first weekend with a full programme of grassroots football, I am reminded that, as Jermaine Jenas states in his video to launch the Love Football, Protect the Game initiative, ‘there’s nothing quite like the start to a new season’.
The post-season is a chance to reset. To remember all the positives from the previous season and get excited for more of the same. To rationalise things that didn’t go accordingly to plan and expect it to be changed this time around as this season is different. It’s the feeling and reason why we continue to follow the teams we do, despite most of us being let down by them season after season.
And we are no different to this as a County FA. Every year we optimistically and boldly look forward to the new season.
As a County FA we are ultimately responsible for ensuring our game is an enjoyable place to play, coach, officiate and watch football within Cumberland.
We are therefore please to see that last season (22-23) saw an improvement in behaviour across the board, but understand that just one serious incident or negative experience could impact an individual so deeply that they walk away from the game forever.
However, the data just give us some reasons to be cheerful and I would like to thank our leagues, clubs, and match officials for their continued commitment to protecting the game that we love.
And this is the key we all love and care passionately about the game and, in the cases of those significant others watching their loved ones, those playing it.
Football is an emotive and passionate game, but this shouldn’t be and is not an excuse for any such behaviour.
We want people to be proud, passionate and to show their love of the game, but all we are asking is that you do it in the right way.
And the good news is that the vast majority of those involved in our game do so in a positive way with Cumberland FA statistics, from this season, suggesting that 94% of the games went without any incident.
So, there is clearly just a small, but increasing, number of people who appear to have lost sight of these fundamental principles of football and what is and what is not acceptable in terms of behaviour.
Let us make it clear to those people that your actions determine the enjoyment of the players, spectators, and officials around you. Every shout, argument, unpleasant comment, confrontation, threat, or violent act, can and will impact the experience of every other individual who loves the game and is therefore unacceptable
We know that there will be, on occasions, poor practice from opponents. However, this is not within your control, and is not a reason for mirroring actions, as two wrongs don’t make a right.
Instead, if you are ever aggrieved then, after the game, you can report your concerns to your club, via your Coach or Club Welfare Officer, or to The County FA or your respective league to allow them to investigate and take any necessary action.
Similarly, there will be times when referees get it wrong, or make a decision that you believe incorrect and goes against you or your team. We can assure you that, whilst you may not always agree with their decisions, match officials, whether qualified or volunteering, are not your opposition. They are doing it to because they enjoy it, or if volunteering, to ensure that the game goes ahead and so if they do not have a positive experience they will not continue.
Likewise, the league and club officials who spend many hours organising your games and the club coaches who arrive before and leave after you are all volunteers, who are not paid for what they do. This means that if they feel that their efforts are not appreciated, or they have a bad experience that they are also likely to walk away from the league, club, or the game all together.
Referees and volunteers are the foundation of the grassroots game, so it should go without saying that any loss of a volunteer will have a direct consequence on your ability to be involved in a match, as without them the game simply does not exist.
So, we urge everyone to reflect upon and manage their own behaviour to be more considerate, more responsible, and more respectful to everyone.
In doing so, you will play your part in protecting those playing a game you care so much about.
I know that you care because I am one of you, an ex-grassroots player, a coach, a parent, a football supporter, and because you are also like me and I, channelling my inner Patrice Evra...
“I Love This Game”.
On behalf of Cumberland FA, we wish all the best to all involved for the 2023-24 season.