THE abuse of footballers has been all over the media recently.

Congratulations and well done to the players at Haringey Borough for standing up to racism, walking off the pitch during their recent FA Cup tie against Yeovil.

It's been the scourge of football and society for too long but what about the group of people - referees and their assistants - who are critical to the sport's survival and the abuse they get week in, week out?

What's happening to stop the vile and vitriolic abuse hurled at officials from parks to Premier League?

We say nowhere near enough.

Referees are subjected to vile abuse every week.

We were advised that one of our members was issued with threats of death by Aids recently and another was threatened to be stabbed after the game.

The constant abuse about ability, looks, weight, hairstyles and gender etc that referees receive from so-called football fans at all levels of the game has ensured that the refereeing community is now at breaking point.

It's time to make a stand.

How did society and football get to this state?

Almost a decade ago, the FA introduced a concept called Respect.

Its aims were to educate parents, coaches and players on their roles in creating a fun, safe and inclusive environment for players of all age groups to participate in football.

Celebrities such as Ray Winstone were used in adverts with catchy titles such as “abuse a ref, lose a ref”, followed in 2018 with “we only do positive.”

So where are we now?

The largest county in the UK for match officials is Essex and the National Referee Association has recognised the Essex County Referees’ Association as the best in the country. The Barking and Dagenham Association was voted the best local society in the UK.

So why is the Essex County RA questioning how to address the amount of abuse levelled at officials?

It's reached such depths that many have questioned their desire to continue officiating.

Where does this leave football on the parks or pitches of local clubs within Essex?

Before most games, players and match officials lineup to shake hands, signifying they've signed up to the Respect campaign.

But once the whistle blows for the start of the game, players, coaches, managers and supporters (we use the term loosely) shout and bawl for every decision.

The ball goes out for an obvious goal-kick and the forwards shout for a corner.

A blue throw is contested as a red throw.

In 20 years as a referee, I've yet to meet a referee who cheats.

In the same timeframe, players almost always shout for decisions they clearly know they are wrong about.

Not all do it but those that do are cheating.

Match officials are questioned and abused at all levels.

At the very top, they are highly-paid, full-time professionals with a close network of support officers, psychologists and sports scientists to get them through the season.

But what does, say, Joe, one of our referees who qualified ten years ago, have?

The eight regional associations of the Essex County RA cover the entire county.

On a monthly basis, they meet to discuss incidents, have guest speakers and offer a close-knit support network, including mental health checks.

But what does the FA offer?

We regularly see young referees abused by parents at children’s matches on a Sunday.

The parents think their son/daughter is the next best thing to come out of Essex since Harry Kane.

And yet when a goal is disallowed, they berate the referee who may be the same age as their child.

Leagues appoint referees to children’s games only once the referee has been cleared by safeguarding and criminal checks.

However, due to abuse of referees, many of these games are refereed by somebody appointed by the club who is not checked.

Rather than abusing the appointed referee, maybe these same parents should be questioning who is refereeing their game?

Referees are trained to know the laws of the game and, in reality, most of the time getting decisions correct is quite easy.

Everything can happen in a split second and the correct decision as far as everyone is concerned must be reached.

Everyone has a view and, more importantly, they are encouraged to express it - that’s the game, that’s football.

It's deemed OK to express your view, even if it's at odds with the person responsible for making the decision.

It’s OK to express your view, even if you didn’t see what happened or were a long way from the incident, you don't really know the laws of the game, you didn’t see it at all or you weren’t even looking.

It costs nothing to shout “penalty” when there's the slightest chance the referee may be looking at a potential foul in the box.

There are no sanctions for being wrong if you shouted it.

But what if you are the one person being paid by the clubs to make those decisions?

You're the one who has to blow the whistle and point to the spot.

Referees are constantly being questioned. Often impolitely.

This is the culture we've arrived at after years of development in the game.

Grassroots referees are expected to be as good as the referees everyone sees on TV.

This is just not realistic and, by the way, grassroots referees never expect the football to be as good as they see on the TV.

So who are these people that referee?

They are either brand new and very young, getting on a bit and still supporting the game by staying involved, often unfit or have a disability, inexperienced and learning the game, not wanted as a player but in love with the game, wanted as a player but reluctant to play, too badly injured to play but fit enough to referee or have variable levels of ability to understand and apply laws of the game.

But one thing they generally have in common is they love football.

They know the game cannot go ahead without someone performing the role of referee so they step up to the mark – often unlike many of those standing watching.

They are brave, determined people who want to help.

So why do so many players lack respect for referees.

Some will not look at them, acknowledge their presence before a game or shake their hands and thank them afterwards.

For many, it will depend on whether they have won or not – that can often be the yardstick by which they will judge the referee.

Give me a foul and you’re OK; give a foul against me and you’re not.

And what if we get some of the decisions wrong? Invariably we will. We all make mistakes.

You’d think we get nearly everything wrong, so what do the statistics show?

Sky Sports Researchers, in conjunction with the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), say:

* A Premier League referee makes around 245 decisions per game - three times more than an average player touches the ball over 90 minutes. That’s one decision every 22 seconds.

* Approximately 45 of these decisions are technical – goal-kicks, corners and throw-ins – leaving around 200 decisions to judging physical contact and disciplinary actions.

* Of those 200, around 35 are visible decisions where an action is taken (fouls, restarts) and 165 are non-visible, where play is allowed to continue.

* In total, refs make around five errors per game, meaning they are right 98 per cent of the time.

* The number of decisions referees have to make has increased by around three per cent in each of the last two seasons and that is only likely to go up in the coming years as discussion around rule changes intensifies.

* The assistant referee makes on average 50 decisions each game; 45 of these are pure offside judgements, with four of these resulting in offside flags. Their accuracy? Again, a staggering 98 per cent.

Yes, at grassroots level the accuracy will not be as good but in many cases it will be pretty close.

In a very few cases, it will be much less.

The problem is that despite the advent of the sin bin, dissent is getting worse.

Referees are simply not allowed to make mistakes – people will castigate them even if their decision was correct.

So why do referees do it?

Simply so you can play. The number of referees in the UK is about 28,500 and Essex has one of the highest numbers in the UK.

One statistic we do have concerns the number of referees who get assaulted and, mercifully, it’s low.

We record four per season and they're usually cases of minor shoving but we have had referees punched and even seriously assaulted.

The fact that anyone could assault a referee is just mindblowing.

Football is a passionate game and a whole host of emotions are experienced.

The sadness of losing, the frustration when an opponent beats you, the elation of scoring and winning, the fear of ridicule when you get to school after your team have lost, the smugness of getting one over a rival, the genuine dopamine effect and endorphin rush of being involved in strenuous physical exercise, then having a shower and a beer with your mates. There’s nothing like it.

But whatever you are getting out of football, think about the referee.

While there's still a referee to think about. It's time to make a stand.