LOCAL football is facing up to a mounting shortage of referees as officials opt not to pick up the whistle in the wake of the pandemic.
Two weeks ago around 550 referees had registered for the 2020/21 season with the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA, down from more than 800 last season.
That is set to cause more strain on already depleted numbers to serve the hundreds of clubs in the region.
Leon Dearns, adult football developmen t officer at the County FA, said this year's crisis had made retaining and recruiting referees extra difficult.
“The numbers are down from this time last time year due to a range of things such as referees moving away from the game, as they do every season, and some are a bit reluctant to come back after what has gone on this year for health reasons,” he said.
Due to social distancing restrictions, officials have not been able to launch courses for new referees.
“Football re-starting has come to us pretty quickly,” added Mr Dearns. “We hope to get the numbers back up but overall they are going to be down from last season just because we have not been able to run any courses.
“It is a concern, as it has been for the last few seasons, but it is something that we are working towards and we will be putting contingency plans in place.
“We have communicated with other leagues already as to how we structure that.”
Mr Dearns said the numbers were changing daily as people re-registered and the total could be over 600 by now.
He added: “The main thing is to retain referees as well because that's where we tend to lose out a bit.
“We have a new referees' development officer, Aaron Bannister, who is taking a lead on that and has put lots of things in place. That has been on the back burner a bit but we will be up and running once we get back into the swing of things of being able to recruit referees again.
“People are still registering and the numbers are going up. It is just whether the numbers go back to 800.”
The situation is a worry for Rotherham clubs, not least those in the 54-strong Rotherham Sunday League which kicks off this weekend.
League secretary Mark Pilley said: “Maybe some have decided to pack in because they have found other things to do after lockdown and obviously there are no referees courses at the moment so they can't replace old with new.
“In the Sheffield and Hallamshire area there are 750 clubs and less than 600 referees and 200 or 300 of them will be youth referees.
“It is going to be like last season, only worse probably, but this will be happening everywhere.”