Seven years on from the FA’s vow to increase the number of black referees, the drought continues.
The target back in 2012 was that, by the 2015-16 season, “the FA in conjunction with county FAs will ensure that 10 per cent of the referee workforce is from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities”.
Reuben Simon, a Level 3 official on the FA’s National list until 2014, fears the numbers will not improve until football’s culture changes.
“I remember going to a Senior Level 3 meeting,” he said. “Looking around there were 150 referees. I didn’t see one black referee. In a rural area, I’d understand. But if you go to the parks in and around London, you will see they do exist.”
The last high-profile black referee was Uriah Rennie, who retired in 2009 due to injury.
“The trouble is unconscious bias,” Simon added. “Over the last 15 years, no chairman in the Premier League or the Football League is used to seeing a black person in authority walk out with the ball and say, ‘I’m running this match.’
“I know many referees who have said to me, ‘Not once have I been assessed by a black or an Asian guy. It has always been a white guy of a certain age.”
Dreadlocked Simon had his own run-in with officialdom.
In October, 2009, he wrote to the FA asking the numbers of black and Asian referees in England. A month later, Simon was bemused by an email from the county referees’ association to his bosses in relation to his handling of a game.
A high-ranking official wrote: “I have received reports of him using an aggressive manner and the ‘F’ word to players in that match – from a reliable source. I have to wonder at his suitability for senior appointments.”
The email was inadvertently forwarded to Simon by the county’s referee appointments officer.
“He knew this wasn’t in my character,” said Simon. “He’d made an error forwarding the letter on to me, but thank God he did.”
Simon was further heartened that nobody could corroborate those claims.
“I went to every person who was there and got it in writing that the game went off fine. Also my two assistants,” he said. “I asked, ‘Who is this ‘reliable source’? I was told to be quiet and carry on. I refused, insisting it needed to go further.
“I wanted to get them to a hearing. I wrote to Mark Ives, head of disciplinary at the FA. No one came forward. Over the subsequent year, my local body, the West Middlesex Referees Association, they supported me. But the county official flatly refused to give up his ‘reliable source’.”
Mirror Sport approached the county referees’ association official, but he declined to comment.