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Hundreds of referees fear for safety at grassroots level after being punched, headbutted, spat at

Hundreds of referees fear for their safety at grassroots level after being punched, headbutted, spat at among many other things.

Many grassroots officials told the BBC that they are concerned about their safety and also expressed being dissatisfied by current abuse prevention measures.

Radio 5 Live launched a survey with over 900 English referees having their say, 293 of them said they were physically abused by players, coaches, or spectators.

Nearly all respondents experienced verbal abuse, and according to the president of the Referees Association in England, who distributed the questionnaires to its 7,000 members in England, the abuse of match officials has a serious impact on their mental health. They are always “one decision away” from a smack in their mouths.

“One day in this country a referee will lose his or her life. It happened in Holland a few years ago and they really changed their culture in football,” said Paul Field.

The Football Association state that a small minority of people abuse referees but such behaviour is “completely unacceptable” and pledged to “continue to do everything we can” to stamp it out, including stronger sanctions and the launch of a 3-year strategy to help tackle the problem.

A trial of refs wearing body cameras in adult grassroots football is being planned to start later this year, with Paul Field saying anyone banned at grassroots level for abusing referees shouldn’t be allowed to attend any matches and called for the Football Association to inform elite clubs, with a view to preventing them from buying tickets for matches.

He also criticised the behaviour of some parents on the sidelines, labelling it “shocking” while players often imitate the behaviour of top-level professionals who question decisions.

 See more on the BBC’s report into referee abuse, including what the questionnaire revealed by clicking HERE.

Ryan, 30, from Lancashire, hid in a back street for an hour after being chased by players.

“Every week when you go out as a referee, you think what’s going to happen this week. I sometimes don’t want to turn up. It’s freezing cold and you’re going to stand there for 90 minutes to be abused, for £30, which is what you get paid,” he said.

“Without a referee turning up at the weekend, you’re not going to have football and grassroots will eventually end up going into the abyss.”

Below is some what referees experienced on and off the pitch…

Megan, 18, Oxfordshire, had a parent come on the pitch with raised fists after she sent a child off.

“He was yelling abuse at me and saying this is why girls shouldn’t be in football,” she said.

“I think he got a six-match ban and fined, but that isn’t enough.

“It was probably the scariest experience I’ve had when I’ve been watching, playing or reffing football. It really had an impact on my mental health, I was just worried all the time. I took two weeks off and worked my way back.

“All referees get abuse and I also get abuse because of my gender – I’m female in a male-dominated area. I’ve had people comment on my chest in the middle of a game.”

Adrian, 59, Portsmouth: “In nearly 24 years of refereeing, I have been threatened, verbally abused, been told they know where I live, also been assaulted five times. Why I carry on I don’t know – suppose the love of football.”

Bill, 74, Leamington Spa: “I have been stopped from driving my car by players lying in front of my car and jumping on the bonnet. Quite a few years ago I was punched from behind and kicked on the floor. I don’t look my age and have vast experience with a good reputation so I can handle myself. But younger refs are walking away.”

Joe, 18, Romford: “I’ve been assaulted by a grown adult player when I was 16, threatened multiple times by managers and parents. A player at under-14 level threatened to have me stabbed and ‘get his gang on me’. Managers have threatened to see me in the car park. Players have also said this.

“We need legislation at government level which offers us protection. The police need to take assaults on referees as criminal matters not just ‘a football matter’, and the FA needs to invest more and increase sanctions.”

Jacob, 15, Essex: “I’ve had players at under-13 level swearing at me and parents undermining my authority.”

A spokesperson for the Football Association said: “We have over 28,000 referees in England, and they are the lifeblood of our game.

“We understand the challenges that some of them face, and we have been very clear that all forms of abuse, whether on or off the pitch, are completely unacceptable.

“While it is only a small minority of people who behave badly to referees, this is still too many, and we will continue to do everything we can to stamp out this behaviour from our game.

“Through stronger sanctions, leading innovations and a new three-year refereeing strategy coming soon, we are determined to tackle this issue and build a safer and more inclusive environment for our match officials to have happy and fulfilling long term experiences as referees.”

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