• Dan Evans


Last Tuesday, referee Darren Drysdale appeared to square up to Ipswich Town’s Alan Judge following the Irish midfielder’s attempts to win a late penalty in his team’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town.

The incident took social media by storm, as the bizarre nature of the confrontation turned a run-of-the-mill League One game into national news.

The fact that Drysdale is a sergeant at RAF Waddington only increased the peculiarity of the clash, as the referee’s hulking physique towered over the 5 foot 7 Judge before he showed him a yellow card as players from both sides dragged the pair away from one another.

Drysdale came out and apologised the following day despite Judge saying it was not necessary. An FA charge of improper conduct was brought against the 49-year-old and he was taken off refereeing duty for this weekend’s fixtures.

This will likely turn out to be an isolated incident, but the reasons behind Drysdale’s loss of temperament should not be dismissed as a one-off.

Playing games in stadiums that are empty has allowed almost every word said by players, coaches and referees to be broadcast to those watching at home, and the language used towards officials could be described as industrial at best.

Practically every decision a referee makes seems to be followed by a string of expletives, even for calls as mundane as which way a throw-in is given.

What appears to have been forgotten by both players and those in the dugout is that officials are effectively colleagues, and there is no way someone would use the language that they are regularly subject to in a normal workplace without facing consequences.

The reasons why players feel it is acceptable to speak to referee’s in the way they do are not entirely clear. Years of refereeing decisions being used as an excuse to gloss over a team’s poor result or performance may have something to do with it, as the man in the middle has effectively been positioned as an opponent rather than the impartial authority figure they actually are.

This sort of attitude has germinated across football as a whole and effectively made referee’s a target for abuse across all levels of the game.

The Football Association announced there were 77 separate incidents of physical assault on referees in the 2019/20 season, and it is estimated that thousands of young referees are giving up the profession on a yearly basis.

Whilst it is unlikely we will see a shortfall of referees in the upper echelons of English football, clearly more needs to be done to support officials at all levels, and setting an example in the professional game would seem an appropriate way to encourage greater respect further down the pyramid.

The restart of the Six Nations rugby has seen many part-time followers of the sport marvel at the communication between players and referees.

There is no real need for footballers to start addressing referees as ‘sir’ as their rugby counterparts do, but the respect between player and official allows decisions to be explained and prevents tensions ever increasing to the extent they did between Drysdale and Judge.

The fact that rugby officials are mic’d up also helps those watching at home to better understand the decisions being made, meaning it’s far less common to see the type of social media abuse that football officials often get.

It would be impractical to have referees at every level of professional football explaining decisions over microphones, but a more consistent and stringent punishment of abuse for officials could make a significant difference.

Mandatory bookings for any player that directs abuse in the direction of an official would be a simple and straightforward way to create a tangible punishment to help protect referees, as at the moment it seems as though they will only receive a caution if they are aggressive. Subtler forms of abuse can be just as damaging.

When players start to regularly be sent off for abusing officials, it will surely impact their attitude towards them and hopefully cause a reset in the way that referees are treated both in stadiums and by supporters online.

Hopefully sense will prevail and it won’t be long until Drysdale is back officiating EFL games again. He made a mistake, most likely on the back of ninety minutes of ill treatment, but the real issue is that referees have been unjustly on the end of abuse for far too long now.