This time Arsenal you have got it wrong

By Tony Attwood

As you may have read in the media, an Arsenal academy coach has been fined and banned for three matches having called a female teenage referee “little prick,” at the end of a game for Under 9s.  He was charged with using improper language and behaviour towards a referee and insulting the referee after the game.  The referee was aged between 14 and 16.

Because of the coach’s abuse during the game, the referee refused his handshake at the end, which led him to say, “How classy, little prick.”   It is an important point, I think, that this happened after the end of the game since the statement was clearly not made in the heat of the moment during the match.  Not that I am saying that would be an excuse, but it is used by some people as an excuse.

The coach was subsequently charged with using improper language and behaviour towards the referee during the game and for insulting her afterwards.  After two hearings he was found guilty on both and fined £400.

Arsenal’s official response was, “we do not accept or tolerate behaviour of this nature. We took appropriate action, suspending the coach immediately the allegation was brought to our attention. This was the first allegation of this nature in his long coaching career and he has been warned about his future conduct.”

Arsenal told the panel Nichols had been a youth coach for 12 years, nine of them at professional clubs, and he had never previously been charged by the FA.

My immediate reaction was that this was not enough, and that the coach should have been sacked at once.  The fact is that he is working with children, and he showed himself to be quite unable to conduct himself properly in front of a minor.

Worse, he give the young players the impression that abusing the referee is acceptable, which of course it is not.

We have been hearing about abuse of referees at the amateur level for years and years and from a variety of sources, some of which have been quoted here.   Way back in 2013 the Daily Mail ran a story about a 15 year girl who was refereeing being targeted with “foul abuse” from parents while refereeing an under 10s match.

Ten years before this there was the banning of parents from matches reported in the Liverpool Echo after a growing tide of violence and verbal and physical abuse towards referees of both sexes at matches.  So we’ve had at least 15 years of this problem.  No one should be able to get away with this even once.

And certainly not in an environment in which across the western world we have stories about trainee and young referees giving up the game because of the abuse from parents.

This history shows the background against which the behaviour of this Arsenal coach has to be judged.  The junior game is in real trouble from two sources: one the terrible nature of many of the pitches that they are forced to play on since the FA failed to live up to its promises of helping the youth game, and the problem with bringing through young referees.

In relation to all this I got to thinking about why I felt so annoyed about the whole situation, and I thought to myself, if one of my staff working in one of the warehouses my company operated had used abusive language towards anyone within the hearing of a young person, I would have removed him or her.

Now I must admit I don’t know what an employment tribunal would have said about it if I had been challenged, but I’d have certainly been willing to take my chances, because I really don’t think this can be done in any circumstances.

But here it is far worse.  The young female in question was the referee, and yet the Arsenal coach gave her abuse.

That, to me, is not the sort of conduct that should be accepted, and a short ban and fine is nowhere near the right punishment, whether the coach has an exemplary career record or not.   What excuse can there possibly be for an employee of the club to behave in this way?

Consider this: the coach got a far, far smaller punishment than Maitland-Niles did for two innocuous fouls in the Leicester away game.  Yet the coach was highly abusive to a girl who was training to be a referee.   The punishment he got suggests that well, if you get a bit carried away, you’ll get a minor punishment and can keep going.  I don’t think that is right at all.


18 Replies to “This time Arsenal you have got it wrong”

  1. It’s so easy to laugh off abuse of referees, but you are so right, if this person abuses young refs, what do they do to young players? And what does it do to the next generation?

  2. Although it is a little bit of a tangent i’m curious did the club sanction maitland-miles as well as the fa?

  3. Crazy.
    If that ref was male, no story here.
    I am confused – I thought people on the left wanted equality?
    No. They just want to appear morally superior.

  4. Depriving someone of their livelihood is not something that should be done lightly.

    Consider that had he been sacked he may not have found alternativ employment easily.

    A single incident hardly justifies such a draconian punishment. I have no doubt an employment tribunal would agree.

    Swearing at anyone is unacceptable, but even to a young referee is not a sacking offence.

    Just imagine how many times Rooney was clearly seen by millions around the world swearing at referees. How many times was he sacked for that?

  5. so what do you say to referees who are blatantly cheating? nothing? i was once red-carded by a ref in a small town who was clearly cheating on behalf of his town’s team just because i asked him if he had actually ever played the game. on the basis of his calls he had not.

    so the lesson to my son and his team mates should have been “it’s okay to cheat, you’ll get away with it”? i think not. he shouldn’t have called the child a prick but he should stand up for his team.

  6. mikeinatlanta
    This was verbal abuse of a sixteen year old girl, probably starting out on a referee career for gods sake. There’s no evidence that she was cheating and her performance would have been noted by (and complaints made to) attending assessors.

  7. Tony, I don’t mean to be unpleasant, but I just can’t get this thought out of my head, that if this involved any club other than arsenal, you would find a way to henceforth always refer to them as “the club that encourages abuse of child referees”

  8. Allegedly, no witnesses, so arbitrarily would essentially be at appeal stage, the charge was upheld on civil merit alone, but without witnesses other than opposition staff offering testimony to support the referees decisions or the latter verbal challenge.

    Sufficed to say if now you have doubts of any significant nature, you find an opposing judgement by law. 🤔

    Sacked on conjecture, indeed one comment takes things less lightly at least.

    Arsenal and getting things wrong seem to be synonymous lately, everyone is leaving, thank heavens for Pires and Ljundberg hey.

    That Laurent boy is alright l, but we need a left back and central midfielders, still not sure about that Xhaka, and Kocielny to Dortmund might be sensible but I like the guy.

    We’ve aging hiigh earners and not enough quality elsewhere, which Aaron’s absence exposed as Matteo tired and with Torriera’s acclimatisation.

    The loanees returning is important but I’m worried by the boards financial ambitions, and the new man near equalled the formers worst achievement with an improved squad he tinkered with and still wore out.

  9. Yelling at a referee is commonplace (Wayne Rooney, take a bow, son!) however it is not right. That the professionals get away with it does not mean we should condone it – especially in front of 9 yr old children.

    I am the father of a 15 yr old who is learning to referee, I have personally walked around a pitch and stood where the fourth official stands to ensure that the coaches know who I am BECAUSE they were accusing my son of bias. Equally, I have recommended that coaches of my sons bench them if they are abusive of referees and I have recommended to referees that they sanction my own players if they use salty language with the referees. We all know that only a small percentage of the children playing at age 9 are going to go professional. The vast majority will be learning life lessons as opposed to football lessons from the adults around them.

  10. @mikeinatlanta I would say that you follow the league procedures and report the incident – film the next match that the official in question is used. You know that questioning the referees competence on the pitch is a non-starter. Letters to league governors, and head referees accompanied by evidence usually has more impact that accusing a referee of incompetence in the heat of the action.

    @Casmir this article is not complimentary of Arsenal FC…so…yes, you do mean to be unpleasant towards Tony…since the future has not yet arrived…Are you saying that we should refer to our own club that way – in the future?…maybe you are not of this club?

  11. Gooner Dave…… are INDEED confused and conflating our Football principles with the political left! That is some leap….but here are some hard facts you might be ignorant of;


    2) Worldwide there is a decline in enrolment for referee courses, and FIFA reports it is mostly due to the abuse potential referees may face once active,

    3) Whether it is a 16 year old (regardless of their gender,race, political beliefs, playing experience etc.) or a FIFA referee(official), ANY direct and confrontational abuse is strictly prohibited in the Laws of the Game. That includes from spectators,managers, other officials, players, parents, the Queen, or anyone else.

    4) Everyone on UA roundly condemns such behaviour from a senior coach/manager and rightly so. It has NOTHING to do with the Arsenal, it has EVERYTHING to do with conduct that would not be tolerated in a civil society, especially in front of 9 year old children.

  12. The way the story has been told, I can’t have sympathy with the coach.

    However, it is not correct to part with him without retraining and some level of understanding as to how and why the situation arose. We do that for criminals, can we not do it for anger management?

    Whilst I have issues with the PGMOL and how they go about business, I would not condone physical abuse even though it is tempting. The fact that there is no open reporting and transparent selection makes abuse more likely.

  13. Abusing any minor is uncalled for and is in very poor taste . Proper punitive action should be taken , but the quantum of it must be followed as the rules or statutes clearly dictate.

  14. @ GoonerDave

    You win the internet award of the year for finding the most tenuous possible link to politics and left thinking people. I assume if the ref had been beaten up you’d have been happy for me to blame everybody right of centre based on the way some people behave……………..

  15. Tony
    Completely agree with you.
    The pieces on ‘give him another chance’ etc are rather pathetic. His locker should be cleaned out and he should be shown the door.

  16. @GGG, I’m saying what you won’t want done to you(your team etc) don’t do to others. Simples.

  17. OT: Golden Boy 100

    Selected teams and how many on list:

    Ajax (3)
    Arsenal (5)
    Barcellona (2)
    Benfica (6)
    Chel$ea (5)
    Liverpool! (3)
    Man$ity (3)
    ManU (3)
    Monaco (5)
    PSG (2)
    Real Madrid (4)
    Roma (4)
    Spuds (2)
    Watford (2)

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