In our first ever 'Ask the Ref' article, the question is raised, what should the ref do if players are concerned about the behaviour of certain supporters lining the pitch? Does the ref have a responsibility in such situations? Here's what our ref thinks...
In a recent lower division league match the referee was concerned about the behaviour of some supporters behind one of the goal lines. He asked the home team captain to move them.
What is the referee’s responsibility in a situation like this and what is the correct course of action?
Firstly the safety of the players is the paramount importance of the referee. Likewise there is a WRU Code of Conduct which has been issued to all member clubs for the attention of referees, coaches and spectators alike.
Abuse of referees is something that I would never condone from players or spectators, however, unlike players, spectators are somewhat more difficult to control. I shall take this question step-by-step.
At most grounds / clubs a representative from the home team will either greet the referee, or at least make themselves known to the referee prior to kick off with a team sheet etc. If this is not the case then I would advise the referee to seek a committee person / team manager etc and clarify things with them pre-match.
During the match, should a spectator / group of spectators become abusive to a level which the referee feels it is unacceptable (a referee must appreciate however that spectators do become very emotional and where possible should look to 'rise above' any comments and not get embroiled in any dialogue with spectators) he/she should stop the game and seek the committee person they spoke to prior to the match. They should ask him / her to remove the abusive parties from the ground prior to the game continuing.
Where it becomes slightly complicated is if the game is being played on a public park ground. Unfortunately there is no requirement for the abusive party to leave the premises as the club have no 'legal holding' over the ground. As such, the referee in this instance should take a similar course of action via a committee person and inform them that if the abuse does not stop, the referee will be issuing a complaint to the WRU noting the behaviour of spectators during the match was unacceptable and thus leave the WRU administrators deal with it from there, post match. The referee will continue the game accordingly.
I certainly would not condone asking a player to cool spectators down as again, safety being paramount, should these spectators be under the influence of alcohol etc then this could jeapordise the safety of the relevant player. It is the responsibility of the clubs to control the spectators during a match and not the referee!