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Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 13:07 UK

Crying foul over hooligan parents

By Paul Burnell
The One Show

Lee Matthews
Lee Matthews was attacked with a baseball bat

Junior football was once seen as embodying the innocence of the beautiful game

But for some parents, the passionate enjoyment of the game is developing a darker side with coaches and referees subjected to verbal abuse and even physical violence from rowdy mums and dads.

Lee Matthews, who has coached junior teams for five years, got more than just an angry look when one parent reacted to his squad rotation.

"He thought his boy was one of the best players in the team," he told BBC One's The One Show.

"We got into a bit of a verbal. He decided to go to his car, get out a baseball bat and after a couple of swings I put my hand up to catch the bat."

Matthews suffered a fractured finger and ended up spending five weeks off work without pay. His attacker was jailed for four months.

I stopped refereeing in the end because the parents just had a win at all costs attitude
Simon Deegan, former referee

Referees suffer abuse at all levels of the game and junior official Simon Deegan stopped officiating because of the problems he had experienced.

"I've had a few instances where you give a minor decision and the team who it goes against the parents just kick off. They take it so seriously they think they're at Old Trafford," he told The One Show.

"I stopped refereeing in the end because the parents just had a win at all costs attitude.

"And it just came across badly with the language and the abuse. It wasn't worth the hassle in the end."

A recent opinion poll by Total Youth Football magazine found that one in five people surveyed had witnessed trouble on the touchline involving parents and spectators at junior football games.

But why are parents behaving badly?

Parenting expert Jenni Trent Hughes believes the problem is linked to parental ambition.

"It has now become a whole aspiration thing because you have football players making vast amounts of money a week," she said.

"So in the same way that a lot of parents wanted their child to be a doctor, they now want their child to be a football player.

And she believes it could affect the youngsters in later life.

Ian Branchard
I was one of those parents that occasionally offered encouragement - I'm not proud to say but sometimes I was too involved in the game
FA youth development officer Ian Branchard

"What you are doing is giving them a distorted view on competition and children need to learn about that but they need to learn to thrive on it. When you think that you are encouraging them you are actually doing the exact opposite."

The Football Association are keenly aware of the problem and is addressing anti-social behaviour with its Respect Campaign that launches last month.

FA youth development officer Ian Branchard admitted there is a temptation for parents to get carried away.

"I was one of those parents that occasionally offered encouragement - I'm not proud to say but sometimes I was too involved in the game," he said.

"I would say to parents, think, step back, encourage and make sure you do it appropriately rather than aggressively."

If parents do not heed this kind of advice there is a bleak future for junior football, according to Matthews.

He added: "The kids will be the ones that suffer in the end because no one will bring their kids to a game thinking that parents will kick off if they don't get their way.

"And the ones that want to play, with parents that want to get involved, there'll be nothing for them there."

You can learn more about this story by watching The One Show, BBC One, Friday 11 April 2008 1900 BST, or afterwards at BBC iPlayer.




see also
Junior football 'violent'
19 Dec 05 |  Get Involved


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