Being assaulted is a reality facing every grassroots level referee

MARK CLATTENBURG: Being assaulted is a reality facing every referee at grassroots level with respect low and animosity high… it’s no wonder some don’t see it worth the risk

  • Suffering abuse as a referee in adult matches has been routine for some time
  • Grassroots referee Satyam Toki was attacked by a player he had sent off
  • It’s a sad reflection on society and the consequences need to be severe
  • There are 28,000 referees in the UK and it’s only right they should feel safe

I was 16 when my old teacher, Mr Reach, took a few of us pupils from Cramlington High School to sit a refereeing exam. 

He had quickly told me I wasn’t going to make it as a footballer, so this might be my next best route into a career in football. 

By 18, I was refereeing adult matches. That was challenging. Abuse was routine and it was about how you dealt with those people, with that conflict.  

Grassroots referee Satyam Toki was punched three times by a player after sending him off

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Even when I went out with my mates at the weekend, a bloke might come up to me in the pub. He’d remember I’d awarded a penalty against him, or shown him a red card, and he’d threaten me. 

Thankfully, I was never physically assaulted, like Satyam Toki was in his pre-season friendly at the weekend. But this is a reality facing every referee at grassroots level. You’re exposed, and it can be an extremely difficult environment for the man or woman who dares to wear black and blow the whistle. 

There are 28,000 referees in the UK and it’s only right that they should feel safe. The higher you go in the pyramid, the more protection you have, but examples of officials being abused or attacked in the lower echelons continue to crop up. It is little wonder some do not see it as worth the risk. 

Satyam was hit three times by his attacker, but we all know it can only take one punch to do irreparable damage. It’s an unfortunate reflection of society. Respect is low and animosity is high. But football has a duty to protect its referees. 

Charity Ref Support UK are doing good work and the Football Association have taken positive steps, such as by roping off pitches to restrict angry parents. But it’s about education. It’s about ensuring players, parents, fans, anyone and everyone realises that respect must be shown. It’s about the small minority who think it’s acceptable to threaten or show violence learning it’s anything but. 

The consequences need to be severe, too – more than issuing a suspension for the perpetrator. If an incident such as this takes place, it has to become a criminal matter. Treat the player as if he was any man on the street. Why should it be any different just because you’ve crossed some white lines?

The attack on Toki is a sad reflection on society and it must be considered as a criminal matter

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