Ref blows the whistle on touchline tantrums

MESSAGE Martin Balls with the letter.  Picture: Alan Hutchings (113235-614)
MESSAGE Martin Balls with the letter. Picture: Alan Hutchings (113235-614)
Pupils from Cliffdale Primary Academy

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WHEN Martin Balls penned an open letter to rugby spectators encouraging better behaviour from the touchlines he half expected it to be ignored.

But the 50-year-old referee’s letter has instead gained massive popularity and is now being used as part of a national campaign.

Martin, from Leigh Park, wrote the letter after seeing pushy parents shouting and screaming from the side of the pitch.

Written on behalf of youngsters who play rugby at Havant RFC, the letter calls on adult spectators to mirror their sportsmanlike behaviour.

The letter was soon spotted by the Rugby Football Union and rugby charity the Bill McLaren Foundation who are now using it to set a good example. And the Australian Rugby Union has also expressed an interest in using the letter. Martin, of Botley Drive, said: ‘I was shocked at how far it had gone.

‘I suppose these simple ideas are sometimes the best ones.

‘I thought it might go through the county and the clubs there would pick it up and do things with it.

‘But now it’s been picked up by the Bill McLaren Foundation and the RFU. It’s amazing.

‘The sort of messages that really hit home are the ones that come from home.

‘So that’s why I wrote this letter and penned it on behalf of the kids.’

The RFU has used the letter as part of its campaign to improve touchline behaviour.

Youth captains are being encouraged to download a copy of the letter and share it with their spectators.

It comes after a rise in aggressive behaviour from those who come to watch rugby matches.

Martin, who is also a rugby coach and Hampshire RFU’s safeguarding manager, added: ‘Too many parents try to live their aspirations through their offspring.

‘You get a collective groan from the touchline when little Johnny drops the ball and it’s totally unnecessary.

‘The kids have a great time and that’s the important thing.’

For more information or to download a copy of the letter visit


‘AS young players we are taught to follow the core values of rugby and it is important you do too.

‘These values are: teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.

‘We respect our match officials and accept their decisions. We respect opposition players and supporters.

‘We play because we enjoy it. Enjoyment is what our game is about. We want you to enjoy the game as much as we do and show your team and the opposition the respect they deserve.

‘We do not want our game spoilt by the bad behaviour of adults, parents, coaches or spectators.

‘Don’t shout at the referee and don’t make comments about ours or the opposition team’s performance.

‘This is our team, our club and our sport. Please don’t spoil it. We learn to be generous in victory and dignified in defeat and we want you to be too.’