Sideline abuse is one thing.

Being threatened with a knife is a different kettle of angry, angry fish.

Or, in the case of Northland rugby referees, angry spectators.

Andrew Johnsen, our sports editor, has reported today on the improvement in behaviour on junior rugby sidelines, but the deterioration of behaviour on senior sidelines.

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His story quotes Gavin Benney, a former cop who was employed by the Northland Rugby Union to sort out the behaviour on junior sidelines. Not only does Benney have policing experience, but he is a referee as well. He is not prone to exaggerated, outlandish statements, so if he observes that things are bad, then they must be.

In the past year, 11 referees have quit the game. Sideline abuse is one of the factors.

Sideline abuse is not something I have ever understood, to be honest. Why yell at an umpire or referee from the safety of the sideline. The umpire or ref can't answer. Seems to me sideline abusers are also cowards and bullies. Ignorant cowards and bullies at that if they aren't going to get off their chuffs and have a go at refereeing themselves.

As a junior cricket umpire, you stand far enough away from the sideline that you can't hear the comments. So when I went along as a neutral observer to watch a junior cricket club final, I was disappointed at the abuse I heard on the sideline directed at umpires from both teams.

It struck me that it wasn't a one-off: There was a culture of moaning and abuse.

With the effort that has gone into rugby, the positive is that junior sideline spectators will one day be on senior sidelines as well.

But short term, clubs need to take the initiative.

If players get red-carded for bad onfield behaviour, perhaps spectators should also be "sent off" or banned from the club - sideline and bar.

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Because for every positive step taken by a team on the field, there are two taken backwards when dickheads in your club colours open their mouths on the sideline.