Glad tidings for referees in the bleak mid-winter
Is this the season of goodwill to all men (including referees)? Of course one swallow doesn't make a summer but in the midst of Norfolk's bleak midwinter some positive news has emerged to warm even the coldest of hearts.
For two of the county's most dedicated football scrutineers have noticed a sign of increased respect towards referees.
Richard King and Barry Knight, members of the 18-strong team of assessors who monitor referees' performances week in week out – have seen signs that behaviour towards match officials is getting better, at least at Anglian Combination Premier Division Level.
'My experience this season when I have been assessing Anglian Combination Premier Division games is that I have been pleasantly surprised at the lack of dissent from players.
'I have seen a marked improvement from previous seasons with players accepting referees' decisions. 'We would like to think it is down to the FA's Respect campaign but maybe it is because we have got some good referees around,' said Richard, who has been an assessor for 20 years, and is the current Norfolk County FA chairman.
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Barry, who is Norfolk County FA's referees development officer, added: 'I assess at the same level and I have also noticed a marked improvement in that division.'
While neither man was offering evidence of a universal upturn both agreed it was an encouraging pointer.
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'Of course you can still get the odd bad game, but overall it's pleasing to see,' said Barry, who believes the key to ongoing success of the much-heralded campaign lays at professional level where there is still considerable room for improvement in the example set by top players in the high-profile televised games.
Meanwhile Barry and Richard, the longest serving members of the 13-strong team of instructors operating countywide, are hoping for good support for Norfolk County FA's raft of refereeing courses next year. The series of courses will include, for the first time, a female only course geared towards the needs of an ever-changing football landscape. This latest venture is the first step on a clear pathway for those who wish to commit themselves to officiating in the fast-expanding women's game, set to be enriched by the new FSA Women's Super League which will kick off in April, featuring Arsenal Ladies, Birmingham, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Doncaster Rovers, Everton, Lincoln and Liverpool.
Seventy-four people had taken advantage of the Norfolk FA's six basic refereeing courses during the year with around half of them going on to officiate in Saturday or Sunday football, the others using their knowledge for their youth clubs.Barry is heartened by the improved retention rate of people making their way from the classroom to the pitch.
'It's encouraging. It's far better than it was,' said Barry. The change in format of the courses, most of them now take place over two weekends, and supported by live match action, had helped.
'Going back 10 years it used to be one evening a week over eight weeks and some people used to drop out half way through,' he said.
• Is behaviour towards match officials improving at grassroots level in Norfolk. Is the Respect message getting through? What do you think? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Letters, Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.