Suffolk FA call upon parents and coaches to blow the whistle on those that misbehave in the grassroots game

Suffolk FA chief executive Laura Smith

Suffolk FA chief executive Laura Smith - Credit: Archant

SUFFOLK FA chief executive Laura Smith has called upon parents and coaches to blow the whistle on those who continue to behave badly at junior football matches.

On Wednesday, Sudbury resident Mark Copping, 39, was sentenced to five-months in prison after he admitted assaulting the parent of an opposition player while managing the Cornard Dynamo Blues Under-14s team on March 3.

“Behaving the right way and conducting yourself in the right manner is a big issue for grassroots football,” said Smith. “I have to say, we’ve seen a big improvements since the FA’s national ‘Respect’ campaign came in (2008), but we can’t be complacent. As this incident shows, the message needs to keep being rammed home and let people know that it won’t be tolerated.

“It’s so frustrating for us when we’re trying to our bit for the local grassroots game, tirelessly pushing the right message and trying to get people to behave in a respectful manner, when you’ve got professional players and managers behaving badly at the top level. Millions watch the game on television and it does get copied. That’s a big issue.”

There have been many suggestions as to how a more positive environment can be created at junior football matches, ranging from banning parents from spectating altogether to scrapping results and league tables to reduce the competitive tension.

Smith, however, believes the current approach – educating coaches and parents through ‘Respect’ workshops and general publicity, as well as encouraging them to draw the FA’s attention to incidents of misconduct – is the correct one.

She said: “We have to remember that there are so many brilliant and dedicated volunteers in the grassroots game that provide a positive environment for the county’s youngsters to enjoy the game.

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“I don’t think we should start banning spectators on mass because it’s a very small percentage of people who spoil it for everyone else and it.

“We’re constantly engaging and working with clubs on the issue of behavioural conduct. My colleagues go out and host workshops with clubs, promoting the work of the ‘Respect’ campaign and encouraging them to provide a positive environment at matches.

“It’s not confrontational, it’s just educating people to deal with things in the right way.

“We recognise that football brings a lot of passion out in people, but they need to stop and think, not react in the heat of the moment, and then talk to the relevant people within their club afterwards if they are unhappy about something.

“This is something we want to stamp out, but it’s impossible for us to speak to every club, every week because there are hundreds of them. We want to encourage anyone who has got any issues regarding anything they see or experience to contact us so we can lend the necessary support.”

She added: “We have a number of brilliant Charter Standard clubs who are superbly run, who have bought into the ‘Respect’ campaign and have been strong in backing us up.

“Our annual grassroots festival takes place at Ipswich’s Gainsborough Sports Centre on Saturday with around 3,000 youngsters taking part. And they will all be wearing our ‘Respect’ armbands on the day as we continue to promote the positive message.

“There have been improvements, but perhaps progress has been a little slower than we’d have liked. It’s something we need to keep hammering home to people so that everyone can continue to enjoy the sport.”

– See today’s EADT for a full feature on the subject of the ‘Respect’ campaign, including two comment pieces from those who officiate and coach within Suffolk’s junior game. To have your say, e-mail:

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