My RA experience by RSUK CEO

After a post on our Face Book page I wanted to reply but the post was too big for facebook to post so I have done a page on the Website.

I was chairman of Weston super Mare RA for many years. We had sponsorship for many thousands of pounds a year and we used to take a group of refs to Holland at Easter for the “Dutch Easter Open”, about 15 refs went every year, some are on the RSUK facebook page. Many ended up on the football league and some are still on the Football league now. These trips were brilliant, all free and a huge part of many ref’s development.

One of our Weston RA Holland Trips only  5 are still active refs

Because of this sponsorship we also gave every member who attended 3 consecutive meetings, a free ‘kit bag on wheels” with the sponsors name on it and this was over 14 years ago. We also gave our members free polos and our assessors free warm winter coats and fleeces.

We even designed an expenses card with the sponsors name on for all refs to use. These went down so well and made our members look a little bit more professional when they had their games. Our members would turn up at grassroots games with a “wheely bag”, nice polo or coat and an expenses card all adding to a great first impression that we all know is so important. Refs used to drive from all over the South West to attended our meeting and they were brilliant, engaging and fun meetings.

We had free warm food so members could come straight from work knowing they would get something to eat all free. We even got a delivery from a local chippy once on a cold winters night.

We had an annual dinner that sold our every year with over 120 people attending. The dinners were very popular and we had with a comedian (sometimes it was me) a band and we always made sure it was not “a stuffy do” and always ensured we could “have a good criac” I miss those dinner very much.

 

Now Football League Ref Kev Johnson & ex 2a Ref Rich Martin at one of our dinners

We didn’t always use the guest speaker method for our meeting as using premier league refs etc is a world away for what most members want as they want to learn and develop so we invited local managers, players etc. Don’t get me wrong, having premier league refs etc was always a highlight but not fundamental to the meeting. What members absolutely and fundamentally wanted was support. Support on and off the pitch. We had a coaching scheme and we had a great number of young refs who we called “Boyzone” who we always encouraged to talk at our meeting and we always gave them the time of the day so they felt part of the meeting.

Things started to change when, for many years on the trot, the only refs getting promoted to “Level 3” in Somerset were from Weston RA. Other branches in the South West started to complain that their members would not go to their meeting but would go to ours, even though it was in some cases over a one hour drive for them, some even travelled from different Counties to come to our meetings.

Other refs from other branches would say “I won’t get promoted as I’m not from Weston RA” it was as if we were “up to no good”, there was defo an atmosphere of jealously and resentment from some.

We would challenge our CFA particularly when it was clear some of our refs were not being supported at discipline hearings etc and we would challenge the CFA appointment officers who were effectively bully refs who said they were not available at short notice.

We also asked why there was a County RA, as they never seemed to do anything but cause obstacles for us. The old school blew their top at this suggestion and a couple of them voiced their concerns and said we were a disgrace to even have a vote on the subject, even though that vote was unanimous to get rid of the County RA.

Years later when Weston RA voted unanimously to be called “RA/Ref Support Weston” the same county RA said ” There would be a mass resignation of the CRA members if the RA board allowed this merger” Less than a year later Weston RA folded and they never heard a word from their “outraged” County RA. A disgraceful development that the County RA should hang their head in shame about.

A big turning point back in early 2000’s was a phone call from the CFA. The man who was effectively the RDO back then was trying to bully me and our members by stopping us giving our members buzzer flags. As I said earlier, this was over 14 years ago and buzzer flag were a fairy new device for refs. We would give refs that reached  level 4 buzzer flags to use but only if they attended our meetings, it was a big part of their development. The caller from the CFA said “Martin, we as a County FA are stopping you from allowing your members to use buzzer flags at Level Four as they give your members an unfair advantage” I couldn’t believe it and basically told him “to do one and he can’t stop me.”….”We will see about that then he said” What he did not know was that I had been told by another CFA that they were going to try to stop us using buzzer flags. I had contacted The FA to ask if it was ok to use them and they said yes.

After the weak attempt at bullying me, I emailed a man called Joe Guest, who was effectively the Neale Barry of today and told him what happened on the phone call from the CFA. He promised me he would e mail me to confirm. Twenty four hours after that phone call an email arrived from the FA saying “Weston super Mare RA should be congratulated on their excellent support of their refs and under no circumstances prevent them from using electronic flags. ” I still have that e mail.

In Holland with Some of our Buzzer Flags

The man from the CFA never talked to me again and I never got a County Cup final even when I reached the Football league as an assistant referee and got appointed to the FA youth Cup Final.

During all these shenanigans the National RA would not help Weston RA and neither would the County RA. This was the first time I saw how the politics worked and the kind of Bullying that goes on, “Just keep your head down” I was told by people at the RA that also held roles in the same CFA. There it was the “light bulb” moment. They would not put their County FA role at risk for some mouthy Scouse Chairman of an RA Branch or any of Weston RA members.

Even now you still see it, many RA’s won’t say anything publicly and privately as they “Don’t want to rock the boat” in their CFA roles, even if they 100% believe in the cause.

The National RA are receive funding by the people they should hold accountable and many branch Chairmen etc hold roles in the same CFA or The FA that they should challenge and hold to account.

All of these experiences planted the seeds of RSUK, I knew what was needed but it would be many years before I created an organisation that would challenge CFAs and The FA publicly and would go to the press if those in power did the normal ” Ignore them they will go away” method.

Move forward to 2016 and RSUK was created. Within a few months I was suspended by The RA for “making derogatory remarks about the association at a meeting” and encouraged members to join “Ref Support” Even thou at this meeting I had been invited by the management committee to discuss a merger.

This was a laughable situation as they had clearly not done their home work on me and had failed to comply with their own constitution. The person who “reported me” was a board member who was from the same CFA that had tried to bully me about the Buzzer flags and he was also a good friend at the time of the man who had attempted to bully me. His cohort for this suspension suggestion was the same Chairman of the CRA who was “Outraged” at the RA/Refsupport Weston merger and let Weston RA die.

To save you all the boring parts of the process I went up to a meeting with their board and they basically threw it out as it was a political agenda against me by a couple of bitter men. The meeting he mentioned had been minuted and I had the minutes proving that the board member who reported me had made similar comments that had been minuted about “The RA dying in a certain amount of years” and it basically all fell apart for them from then on. This board member then led West Somerset RA that would fold a few years later after refusing the help from RSUK even and after that branch had voted to merge with us. So here we are with two people reporting me for “derogatory remarks” about The RA who then had two branches fold on their watch. Impressive.

The hearing was fair TBH and Ian Campbell who chaired it did a great job and it started a positive communication channel with the board the resulted in a few meetings. There was an agreement to “merge” as an organisation and work together. After many months of trying to make this happen the lack of progress frustrated the trustees of RSUK and we gave up trying to get together and went full speed ahead on our own.

I have an amazing amount of respect for what the RA were but their failure to “move with the times ” has lost them a lot of members. Their failure to also criticise David Elleray for his admitted alleged racist comments when he was President of The RA is, in my opinion, a dark day in the RA history that also lost them members and crediblity.

Their failure to support our campaigns is viewed by many as a failure on their part as they appear to place politics before referees and that never works.

I believe the board is of no use to the ordinary member and the branches have the power to make change and make The RA a real voice for referees.

I for one would love to see the day when they are making a real change for the grass roots referees with clear, public, vocal criticism of those who govern our game.

Their insistence to almost always post about Premier League refs being their members is an opportunity missed and an “ordinary grassroots member” on a grass roots game would be made up to get a name check on The RA”s social media platforms. They need to remember that the Premier League Refs are a minority in their membership and they need to be more grassroots focused on their social media.

Our offer is still on the table to work together in a positive manner but the politics has to stop.

A recent zoom conversation with Lee Markwick from The RA board that has given me a belief that they are having a change of direction. I really appreciated Lee contacting me out of the blue to open my eyes to some of the great work he does. I plan to keep in touch with Lee and see what develops.

I advocate refs to join the RA and see what there is to help you. If you are not happy with their service leave. Either way RSUK are here to help you free of charge wether you are a member of the RA or not.

 

Letter from The RA stating I was “suspended”

 

My Reply proving they had got their process very wrong

 

Another Reply from The RA that was against their own constitution

 

My reply pointing out their second error.