teenage Manchester based referee Ryan Hampson

Defending the whistle: Grass-root refs plan strike

  • NQ's Lawrence Cant caught up with Manchester-based grass-roots referee Ryan Hampson
  • The teenager is at the forefront of a planned referree strike to highlight abuse referees receive 

For years now in the English Premier League and leagues around the world, the abuse of match officials has often overshadowed events on the pitch. These high profile occasions have highlighted just how tough and demanding the life of an official can be, the complete lack of respect the modern day footballer has for the officials and the way it has filtered down into grass roots football and the amateur game.

The recent news that the FA are looking at relaunching the Respect campaign came alongside the national exposure of a referee strike campaign launched by teenage Manchester based referee Ryan Hampson.

The strike is due to take place on the weekend of the 4th-5th March and could see as many as a 1000 referees across England refuse to officiate amateur grass roots league ties. Ryan has received national media exposure as he prepares for the coming strike and has received support from referees across the country and abroad.

Ryan also became the first ambassador for Ref Support UK, a charity that is committed to providing help and support to referees across the UK. Their mission statement states they wish “To raise the quality, status and benefits of refereeing, for the good of its members and in the interests of the game”.

In a sit-down interview with NQ's Lawrence Cant, Ryan discusses the campaign, the support he has received so far and what he hopes to achieve on the back of the campaign.

Full interview below: 

NQ: Welcome Ryan, what first inspired you to referee?

RH: Well, to be brutally honest I was a rubbish footballer, I couldn’t kick a ball to save my life. So yeah, I took up the whistle.

NQ: When you first started refereeing, the younger games, were you getting much abuse there?

RH: It was more the parents to be honest; the players were ok and no worries. It was the parents on the side line thinking their kids were the next Ronaldo or the next Messi that gave me stick.

NQ: When you initially started did you feel like you were supported by the Manchester FA?

RH: So-so, there was always a little bit of support there, I don’t think there was enough support though to stop the things that were happening, what we’re speaking about. There was different groups that you’d get put into, development groups, academy groups for referees that want to go up the ladder. But to be totally honest with you I don’t think the support was there.

NQ: When did you first actually feel threatened on the pitch?

RH: So I was about 16 and a half, I’d been doing open age football for say about 5 or 6 months. I was on the pitch one day, a player came up to me, squared up to me in my face because he’s disagreed with one of my decisions. He’s pushed me in my chest, came up towards me and tried to head butt me. He actually put contact on my head it was a really scary situation, bearing in mind this player was about 6 foot, in his late 20’s and a big beard. I was 16 and about 4 foot nothing.

NQ: Are there any other instances where that’s happened?

RH: There’s actually been quite a few instances, I’ve been assaulted in a changing room. I’ve had all 11 players from one side actually crowding round me in a circle not letting me get past them. I was in the changing room once at one of my games, and the players have come in and thrown water all over me, all over my phone, but it has been scary at times in terms of the players. It’s not all players, it’s just some bad apples in certain teams, some players do respect you and they are very good and you can have some great banter. But there are occasions where these players let their passion boil over and some of the things they do is absolutely disgusting. It’s scary for match officials like myself coming through the game.

NQ: Getting head butted when you were 16, did you complain after that happened?

RH: Yeah, I put a report in to my local FA, but it was actually not proven. If it’s a proven assault then the player gets banned x amount of games, and gets a fine. But, then sometimes it’s not proven because the player appeals it, there’s a commissionary hearing with you and the offender. They give their evidence, you give your evidence and whatever the commission go with they’ll either back up the player or the referee and that’s another I think that’s wrong.

If you go in the appeal hearing you can’t ask the player why he did what he did but the player can ask you why you did what you did. It feels like you’re the one on appeal rather than the player. It’s disgusting in my opinion. I’ve come out of appeals where I’ve been head butted, spat at, punched and I’ve come out of appeals and it’s not proven. It makes me want to give up, I have given up for a couple of months because I’ve not felt supported by the FA.

NQ: Regarding the campaign, when did you first feel it started to gather momentum?

RH: I started the campaign back in December, I went on several referee pages on Facebook, I’ve started my own page on Facebook called referee strike campaign. It gathered pace by loads of organisation on Facebook deleted the post, and there was one organisation that came in called Ref Support UK, it’s the only independent charity in the world to actually support referees independently. I’m now the first ambassador for that charity, and it’s a massive honour for me to support referees in Manchester and across the country. We’ve had several interviews with media stations, BBC, ITV, the MEN, The Mirror, The Sun, talkSPORT, I could go on and on.

NQ: So you’re striking on the 4th and 5th of March?

RH: Yeah, we’ve got over 2000 referees in the UK that will be striking, now on average there’s about 8000 referees that referee on a weekend so about a quarter of them will be striking, there’s several leagues in Manchester that will just be postponing their matches that weekend because they can’t get a referee. There’s a supply league in the UK which is going to be striking, they aren’t sending referees out but they’re expecting the teams to play the game and self-officiate.

NQ: So you have had dialogue with your local FA and the National FA?

RH: Early January I met with the Manchester FA and asked them to bring in changes such as: more support for referees and harsher bans, so the welfare of referees is better. I was still 16 and a minor when I got head butted, I didn’t get anything from the FA no phone call or anything even after the report was put in. There’s only been minimal change, we want more change and that’s why this campaign has gone national. At the end of January we also met with the FA, we met with the head of governance, the head of referees and the head of communications. In my opinion the meeting was a waste of time, there was nothing in that meeting, they weren’t promising change. We went to the meeting and they were trying to shut us down, they discussed change but they never promised anything. On the 10th of March I will be meeting with the FA again, I’m hoping for a more positive outcome and better dialogue this time around.

NQ: Have you had support from any other referees?

RH: Yeah, there was a referee that actually refereed the Celtic-Rangers derby years ago and in the Champions league. He’s supported me, I’ve had support from referees that are high up that I can’t mention. I’ve had support from an ex-Premier League referee and a current one, who again I can’t mention. This campaign has become big and I’m so happy.

NQ: Do you think the abuse officials receive in the Premier League influences young players?

RH: Definitely, the abuse in the Premier League does filter down, the respect campaign is going to be brought back in, which was brought in in 2008 but it’s just been allowed to be ignored. Hopefully the respect campaign can be seen over all platforms of football and I just hope there’s more respect throughout football.

NQ: Finally Ryan, what do you hope the outcome of the strike campaign will be?

RH: I’ve requested for referees to wear body cams, but one of the FA laws states you can’t wear any electronic equipment. I feel if we are allowed though, it’s a deterrent and keeps us safe. We can use this as evidence for the abuse we receive, and that’s one thing I definitely want brought in. More support for referees, harsher bans and harsher fines, and just for us to feel like we’ve got that support from the FA.