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Fear, Anger, and Loneliness: Emotional Pain and Referee Attrition in English Grassroots Football

Paul A. Potrac, Edward T. Hall, and Adam J. Nichol

This interpretive study provides original insights into the socioemotional experiences that contributed to referee attrition in English grassroots football. Data were generated using an online survey (n = 251) and in-depth interviews (n = 20) with former referees. Using complementary symbolic interactionist and relational conceptualizations of identity, social interaction, and emotional pain, the analysis addressed the participants’ interpretations of their problematic encounters with the various significant others (e.g., coaches, managers, players, spectators, and administrators) that comprised their respective social networks in grassroots football. Importantly, the participants described several emotionally painful issues related to match day environments, disciplinary proceedings, and deployment and development processes that simultaneously coexisted alongside and exacerbated one another. The findings present important implications for those individuals and governing bodies who are responsible for referee retention.