The dwindling number of match officials from the Barrow area is now becoming a real worry for amateur football, according to Furness Premier League referees’ secretary Bob Davies.

Tomorrow brings 17 matches across the three divisions of the FPL and six of those will not be covered by a qualified referee, with officials from the clubs have to step in and make do.

That’s not even the worst scenario the league has faced recently, as only seven officials were available on another weekend where a full round of fixtures was held.

Davies has flagged an ageing refereeing fraternity in the area as a real concern, as a next generation of men in black simply isn’t coming forward, which is also having a knock-on effect in the Barrow & District Junior League.

Davies said: “We just don’t seem to be attracting people into refereeing, for whatever reason.

“I do feel that the whole game has changed from when I started refereeing in the 1980s, when there was probably 40-plus referees in the town in those days.

“The whole local football picture has changed since then and I think the behaviour of players at clubs has deteriorated and this has probably caused a fall-off over years and we’re not coming to a critical stage, I think.

“I really worry for the future of refereeing and for local football in the town because we the referees are an ageing group now and, without giving away any secrets, there’s a few of us coming up to retirement age.

“There are no youngsters coming through - I think the youngest one we’ve got at the moment is around 25 years old.”

The fall off in the number of referees will naturally raise concerns over the amount of abuse they often have to take from players, match officials and spectators.

Although Davies feels the experimental innovation of sin bins by the FA at grassroots level is helping on that front, he believes the treatment of officials is putting others off from picking up a whistle.

He said: “I was recently refereeing at a game and was out on the pitch warming up and I saw a player that I knew.

“He was just there to watch and said he had packed in playing and I asked if he’d not fancied taking up refereeing.

“He shook his head and said ‘I couldn’t take the abuse you fellas take’ and that’s happening more and more often when you speak to people.”

In an effort to reverse this slide, Davies is trying to organise a refereeing course in the Barrow area in January and is looking for 16 applicants. Those interested can contact him on 07901 646567.