'Abuse, violence and disrespect' sparks cancellation of U16 football league matches in Bristol

  • Watch Ross Arnott's report here.

Organisers of the Avon Youth League have cancelled all U16 football matches across Bristol this weekend after a spate of violent incidents.

The league says it made the call to scrap fixtures on October 30 for the 42 teams in the age range to protect the players, officials and spectators.

It follows a number of serious incidents occurring at matches in recent months - including a parent reportedly storming onto the pitch during a recent match and seriously assaulting a 16-year-old.

Now, the league secretary Martin Peters has told ITV News West Country that poor behaviour and discipline needs to stop.

"It is just about disrespect and indiscipline around youth football," he said.

"We have seen a massive increase in issues with the U16s this season and a lot of our games aren't covered by league-appointed referees.

"We have also seen around 10 red cards and plenty of reports about sideline behaviour.

"There are at least six reports that the county FA are not investigating.

The Avon Youth League took the decision to cancel matches after a serious incident last weekend.

"It has been coming for a while. From the league's perspective we have been going on at clubs about respect but I think since Covid it has got rapidly worse."

When asked about the specific incident involving a player being assaulted by a parent and another where a player was head-butted by a rival, he said: "They are shocking incidents, this is a game of football and it is taking the enjoyment out of playing the game.

"It is about enjoyment for the kids and I don't see how some young adults, children and spectators can enjoy watching the sport with this amount of disrespect."

It means that more than 400 children will be unable to play the sport they love this weekend.

"We have to try and protect as many people as we can and yes innocent teams and innocent players will be missing out this week but we have to take a decision for all," Martin added.

Martin also revealed that this decision was also made in February of this year after a huge deterioration in behaviour but that it improved before the end of the season.

Martin said that there had been a rise in incidents of indiscipline and poor behaviour.

A statement by the Gloucestershire FA, which largely oversees football operations in the region, confirmed that it supported the decision to scrap the matches.

It said: "This season there has been a growth in incidents of unacceptable behaviour in grassroots football, particularly in youth football. These include aggressive shouting and abuse directed at young match officials, arguing and fighting amongst parents/spectators and assaults on both players and match official.

"The FA recently circulated a message to all clubs and leagues to say ‘Enough is Enough’, making it clear that action will be taken against those who ruin the game for others.

"Whilst only a small minority of people act in this way, these individuals can spoil the game for everyone, causing children and young people to not want to play, referees and volunteers to drop out and spectators to stop supporting their team.

"We all have a responsibility in setting the right standards of behaviour in the game and Gloucestershire FA fully support the Avon Youth League in the action they have taken this weekend."

Martin said that 'Youth football should be for everyone'.

Fixtures in the league are expected to be running again for the first weekend in November which actually coincides with a special FA campaign which is called the 'Silent Weekend', aimed at encouraging people to remain quiet and respectful on the sidelines.

The hope is that behaviour will improve after this action taken by the league and next weekend gives people a chance to prove that, Martin though has a message for those who enjoy going to matches on the weekend.

"Enjoy the game, we don't want to have to do this because we really want young people to be playing and enjoying football," Martin continued.

"My message is be respectful, be decent and football will not be taken away."