Nothing beats a passionate club sport crowd.

Seeing a packed sideline with the home supporters lining the chalk with travelling fans scattered between is something to behold. The passion this country has for sport at the grassroots level is undeniable.

But at times this passion can boil over into something worse. Not always, definitely not for the most part of this season anyway, but it can.

In the last week the Northern Advocate has reported on incidents where referees were abused by players, coaches and spectators at club rugby matches.

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This isn't indicative of how things have been in 2017, rather the contrary. Up until the last month, it had been a great year for the game.

With the finals within touching distance, a player has been handed a 77-week ban for threatening a referee.

Look, high tensions at this point in the season are understandable. The chance for your team to bring home a title means the nerves are at breaking point. Frustrations can mount, particularly towards the referee.

But to abuse a match official is just not cricket.

Of course, there are two sides to every story but at the end of the day this behaviour is not okay and needed to be punished.

The Northland Rugby Union acted swiftly and decisively which sent a message to people everywhere. It needs to be applauded for its efforts to help make rugby a better place.

But what may be forgotten in this is the clubs involved and their highly commendable decisions in the wake of these sort of events.

Mid Northern and Hora Hora have brilliant supporter bases. Heading out to Hukerenui for a Saturday afternoon of high-octane Mid Northern rugby is something any sports fan should do.

The clubmates play for each other. The fans have the team's backs. The coaches do a brilliant job and it is never a surprise to see it at or near the top of the ladder.

Hora Hora is much the same. Both their sides are in the top half of the competition and the spectators are loyal and loud. They have strong squads and good coaching.

But what may have been swept under the rug is how well they've combated what's happened in recent weeks.

Working with the NRU they have disciplined supporters who have been out of line and this should be lauded, not lambasted.

Some may say the referee is now a protected species. And they should be because, as with any sport, without them the game couldn't be played.

This doesn't free them from criticism, just abuse. There's a line between the two and we, as spectators, players and coaches, need to be careful not to cross it.

A referee's performance, just like a player's or coach's, is not exempt from being criticised. However, there is absolutely no reason why a referee, or anyone at a game, should fear for their safety.

The many far outweigh the few in this area and it's up to everyone to make the sidelines a better space.

The work done at junior rugby at Kensington Park shows it can be done. The club environment is a relatively good one but improvements can and should be made.

But this starts with the rest of the winter season. We can't afford to give progress the cold shoulder.