THE most senior referee on the Island has lifted the lid on a problem that has simmered beneath the local football radar for some time — and one he believes could have a huge effect on the Island’s leagues in years to come if not remedied — the critical shortage of referees.

Let’s face it, being a ref is a thankless task, but without them, where would football be?

At the ripe old age of 79, Andy King still enjoys donning the black kit, armed with cards and whistle, on a Saturday afternoon — come rain or shine.

Known by most players as ‘Kinger’, Andy is a no-nonsense refereeing legend — one of a dying breed who deservedly earns the respect of players of a certain vintage.

But he is not the only referee in advancing years who officiates on the Island. Two are over 70.

Isle of Wight County Press: Island League referee of almost 65 years, Andy King.Island League referee of almost 65 years, Andy King.

Ten have passed retirement age. Most of the remainder are not too far behind. So where is the fresh blood?

“Once we’re done, who’s going to step in and take over? No one,” warns Andy.

Each week, games are cancelled because the clubs playing do not get a referee allocated — normally in the Combination Leagues.

Other unappointed matches that do go ahead are normally covered by the home club, but a stand-in must be approved by both clubs concerned or the game is scrubbed.

Andy, also the Island’s fixtures secretary, said: “When I sent the last fixture list out, 45 per cent of the games didn’t have a referee. I could’ve cried.

Isle of Wight County Press: Islander Lee Probert started refereeing when he was a teenager and went on to become a Premier League ref.Islander Lee Probert started refereeing when he was a teenager and went on to become a Premier League ref.

“There are referee shortages around the country, but our problem is more acute because we are an island.

“We used to have spare referees not so long ago. Now it’s the complete opposite.

“The players probably don’t realise the problems, but the clubs do — they get the fixture lists each week.

“There’s never been as acute a shortage as there is now.

“Most of the refs we’ve got are keen, but we’re really up against it now.”

Dean Thistlewood, secretary of the IW Referees’ Association, believes the knock-on effect of a critical shortage of refs would be devastating for Island football.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“How do you get people interested in becoming a referee? There’s no answer to it nowadays,” said Dean, a former referee.

“There’s a time commitment, the cost of getting trained and, with fewer people interested in playing football these days, there would be less interest in refereeing.

“There is also the issue of refs being abused. Why would you want to put up with it?

“Potentially, the Island leagues could fold which, in turn, would have a massive effect on our Wessex League sides. Where would they get their players from?”

The Hampshire FA hope to remedy the situation by bringing a refereeing course to the Island — but they would need to fill a minimum allocation of 12 to run it.

Isle of Wight County Press:

It is understood eight have so far expressed an 'interest'.

The dehumanisation of referees is one of the most striking developments in English football in the last 20 years.

Last year, a University of Portsmouth study showed 60 per cent of refs were subject to severe verbal or physical abuse in at least one of every two matches they officiated.

Two decades ago, you might moan about a ref at a match and continue that discussion in the pub or on the way home.

Those same frustrations are now amplified on the pitch and from the dug-outs, says Andy.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“It has become far, far harder to referee than it ever was. Society has changed. Players are naturally more gobby than they’ve ever been. Football follows society,” he explained.

“There are very few players you can talk to on the pitch and say, keep an eye on your blokes and shut them up.

“And once you get a game with no official referee, you’re asking for trouble.

“I’m surprised some clubs aren’t saying they’re fed up not having a ref and perhaps won’t play next season.”

The Island may never produce top refs like Lee Probert and Ron Groves again.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“Being a referee is about whether you have the passion to do it, the patience and good fitness, with the game quicker than it used to be,” Andy adds.

Brading Town chairman, Geoff Ruck, who saw his reserves match called off on Saturday, said he fully backed referees on the Island.

“I can’t see why ex-players can’t give something back to the game when they’ve finished playing,” said Geoff.

“They are critical of referees when they play, so why not do it themselves when they’ve packed it in?”

  • Do you want to play a part in helping to solve the Island’s refereeing crisis? If so, contact the Isle of Wight Referees’ Association:
  • If you are interested in doing the Hampshire FA referees course on the Island, it will be held at Ryde Academy, Pell Lane, over Friday and Saturday, January 21 and 22. The Friday leg of the course will run from 6pm to 9pm, and between 9am and 4pm on the Saturday. Anyone interested should contact George Redford at the Hampshire FA, either by email: George.Redford@, or by phone 01256 853005.