This interpretive study provides original insights into the socio-emotional 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 conceptualisations of identity, social interaction, and emotional pain, our 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 matchday environments, disciplinary proceedings, and deployment and development processes that simultaneously co-existed alongside and exacerbated one another. Our findings present important implications for those individuals and governing bodies who are responsible for referee retention.