Football’s Abuse Of Its Own Referees: Our Unrecognised Failure

Football has made its own referees suffer for such an extended period, it’s not even recognised as wrong.

Countless stories of abuse at under-11 matches, tales of fractured skulls, broken bodies, FA charges and verbal and physical abuse make up the ugly aspect of the game that’s rarely discussed – abuse of referees.

Former professional referee, Pierluigi Collina, told Sky Sports News earlier this year: “Unfortunately I see this in almost every country in the world. It’s a worldwide problem that we need to consider, and we need to take [action] as soon as possible.”

If different countries have the same problem, the issue isn’t regional. It runs through the sport itself.

Here are some stories which highlight how globalised abuse of football’s referees is.

In South America, Silvio Ruiz sent off an Atletico Quilmes player, before the offender hospitalised him. The local league’s president said it was a ‘miracle’ the referee lived.

At an Ethiopian university, players and coaches of a team chased and then punched a referee on the ground after he awarded a goal against them.

Just last month, Spanish referee Fernando Lopes was beaten so badly at a game in North London, it was described by one reporter as: “the worst assault on a match official in Britain.”

Physical violence happens so often, Ross Hawkes, a former referee who quit after being attacked twice in three years, warned football is: “a powder keg waiting to explode”.

A study by the University of Alberta, USA, found referee abuse in football has risen in recent years. It’s now cultural. Football dehumanises and vilifies its own officials and somehow it’s OK. There is an unspoken agreement: if a referee makes the wrong call, abusing them is fair game.

We seem to accept poor treatment of officials, even though in any other environment it would be totally unacceptable.

On television, pundits criticise referees and brand decisions as ‘appalling’ or ‘shameful’, as though poor performance is a moral failing.

This culture trickles down into football’s grassroots level, and so the cycle continues.

So just how has abuse of referees become so ingrained in football, it’s a cultural norm?

Ali Perros, a 22-year-old who opted to work as a referee instead of a bar job to fund his time at university, said: “The reason why it’s more common in football than other sports, is that a lot of laws are subjective – there’s not a clear definition in a lot of case.

“Lots of managers constantly criticise the referee when things don’t go their way. One striking factor I’ve seen is that managers very rarely praise the referee after a game. Again, referees arguably take the fall for mistakes and poor performances of managers and players,” he explained.

“The abuse I’ve received has mainly been verbal.The worst example I can think of about happening to me was I reffed a game about three years ago. A team’s captain accused me of not playing enough stoppage time and said something on the lines of: “You’re lucky I’m not punching you, you cheating c**t”. I sent him off after the final whistle.

“When I was getting changed, his teammate burst into the changing room, screaming abuse and threatening me. Luckily a colleague was on hand, otherwise it might’ve escalated.”

There is the argument that, in a sport as intense as football, there should be space for a player to let off steam, an acceptable amount of abuse and shouting should go unchallenged, because it’s a high-octane sport and emotions run high.

Ali Perros (left) took up refereeing to support himself at university
Ali Perros (left) took up refereeing to support himself at university

Then there are those who feel this supposed boundary should be eradicated, no room for complaints and moaning, the upmost respect for officials should be upheld at all times.

“Players should be allowed to vent as long as it is not abusive, personal or aggressive,” Perro said. “It also helps because some players are not aware what the decision was given for and if they’re allowed to speak to the ref and question the decision, the referee can let them know what the decision was for.”

“But there has got to be a point where players have to stop complaining. They can’t just complain or question every decision. I think – purely from a maintaining referee’s authority point of view – there has to be a threshold because otherwise it just becomes ridiculous.”

Paul Field, chairman of the Referee Association – a volunteer-run organisation formed to support referees – believes that arguing with referees is not acceptable at any level. He feels that heavy punishment is the best course of action to take to remove referee abuse out the game.

“We call on the central government to instruct courts to sentence those guilty of referee abuse to sentence at the highest possible threshold and issue football banning orders,” he said.

Paul Field. Chairman of the Referee Association.
Paul Field. Chairman of the Referee Association. 

“There is no line. When do you hear a manager say that he has a right to complain because his player missed an open goal, etc, they need to have a long hard at themselves.”

There were 111 cases of confirmed referee abuse across the United Kingdom last season, according to a report by the Football Association.

But Martin Cassidy, founder of Referee Support, has stressed that the statistics don’t show the whole picture.He said to the BBC: “On the face of it, the figure appears to be very low. However, it’s the equivalent of over two per week, and if it’s just during football season months it is over three.

“The figure does not include cases which were not proven, nor the hundreds of incidents where abuse was not reported.”

Why aren’t cases reported? In any other line of work – or volunteering – you wouldn’t choose to ignore verbal and physical abuse aimed at you.

But when you consider that foul treatment and abuse of referees are commonplace and the done-thing, there would be no reason to report it. Could the problem be so entrenched that any other way seems bizarre, even to referees themselves?

Cassidy’s charity, Ref Support, recognises this: “People adhere to social norms and change their conduct’, the website says of extensive research done. The theory for Referee Support is if they can change the culture at the top, the rest will follow.

The charity also drew up a list of possible prevention methods on its website, the onus on referees wearing body-cams. They feel this could hold the key in changing the poisonous relationship between referees and the rest of football.

And prevention methods have been enforced by the FA, too. The organisation is doing its part. Joseph Larkin, a level four official, said that the standard of referees is: “at an all-time high”, the FA launching their Centre of Refereeing Excellence, whilst issuing support to Referees Associations.

But sometimes the FA and other bodies and organisations have failed its officials and become part of the problem themselves: in Thailand, a referee was kicked and punched by fans of Satun United, but a panel banned the referee for six years for an ‘unsatisfactory’ performance.

15-year-old Max Ormesher said he was abused and intimidated by coaches during an under-11s friendly. The charges on the managers were later dropped, with the FA later described as ”failing’ the teenager.

Credit: BBC. Ryan Hampson expresses his concern.
Credit: BBC. Ryan Hampson expresses his concern.

Ryan Hampson, a 19-year-old who claims he’s been spat at and headbutted during his time as a referee, was charged by the FA for misconduct, after he protected a 15-year-old referee who had been verbally abused by three men at a game.

Today, you will find endless, brilliant causes in football.

It’s a sport that, undoubtedly, still has its problems, but has evolved tremendously in recent years, becoming more diversified and approachable for people of all backgrounds, the way it should be.

But abuse of referees is ignored. Somewhere along the way, in our thorough concern for football and its social issues, we forgot an important component.

In our attempts to bring justice to the game, to create equality and effect change around many important issues, we have forgotten about referees.

The end isn’t in sight, either.

If you want to learn more:

Ref Support.

Referee Association

SPORTbible’s campaign More Than A Game tells the stories about football and its power beyond the pitch. Find out more here.



Five-A-Side: How A National Community Is Helping People Overcome Mental Health Issues

The reason most of us don’t take up a sport is the commitment. Imagine having to give up your precious weekends in exchange for a competitive match or having to miss that one episode of Corrie every week because you must train with your side.

But with the recent shocking mental health statistics around men, it’s more important than ever they find some form of regular exercise, regardless of how busy the diary may look.

Thankfully, there’s a rising popularity in five-a-side football among males, an extremely accessible and high-octane sport, which is enjoyable, relieves stress, and improves fitness.

Meet these three men who have found a great deal of help through five-a-side, each with their own unique tale. Pietro Capitelli, a dietetic assistant, had to take a break from his semi-professional 11-a-side career because of mental health issues.

“Because I was so young, I didn’t realise what was happening to me. Luckily, I managed to get help from a friend who I played with. He noticed a lot of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and would always be there to talk,” Capitelli says.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Anxiety is a very overwhelming condition. Everything can seem like a massive black hole, not least because of the stigma around men talking about the issue. To do so is seen as weak, and so men tend to keep it to themselves.

“I choose not to tell people about my anxiety because when you feel so low you think no one will understand. It can be hard for me to socialise when I am so down and anxious, but five-a-side just seems to be the bridge to getting back to myself. I play five-a-side now roughly three or four times a week.”

Andrew Shanahan conceptualised the renowned Man v Fat company after putting on a sizable 84lbs amount of weight from his work as a food journalist. It sounds like a glorious job, but one, he says, that did no favours to his waistline and self-esteem.

“It really affected my confidence. I would be very down, didn’t want to do any activity at all, and be really concerned about going to the gym. I was totally naïve as to the effects of food. I joined Weight Watchers and Slimming World, but it didn’t work. That’s nothing against the organisations, but it’s more orientated around women. There seems to be a lack of education for us men; even by going to a doctor, they will tell you just to eat less,” Shanahan states.

Shanahan feels that there is a cultural problem around obesity in men, that somehow masculinity teaches males they should eat as much as possible. So he thought up Man v Fat as a way of combating this.

“The real tragedy for me was there was nothing out there that provided support for men. I thought that there should be, so I did a crowdfunding campaign for Man v Fat. After two weeks we raised about £9000 – and the campaign even got support from celebrities like Jamie Oliver.”

Credit: Man V Fat
Credit: Man V Fat

Man v Fat has become so popular that it’s even gone international, with centres opening in Germany and as far as Australia. The success of Man v Fat could be down to the way the particular way they run their sport, putting the well-being of the players first, with everything you’d typically associate with sport coming second.

“Whenever someone first joins five-a-side or even starts to exercise in general, you’ll find that they’ll be quite scared. When I first started, I thought I might die. In Man v Fat, to stop this, we allow new members to join initially as a non-playing player, however, they can still contribute to their team by losing weight and hitting targets regularly,” Shanahan says.

Five-a-side may appear like a minuscule version of the football, but research shows the health benefits are largely superior, owing to the close-quartered environment and electrifying speed of the game. And this, of course, is great news for those wanting to both enjoy themselves with their mates and burn fat – an idea that the very foundation of Man v Fat is based on.

“There are 14-week leagues and you can only join if your BMI (Body Mass Index) is over 27.5. But if you start with us and go under this number, we’ll still let you play. All players weigh in before a game, and they score bonus goals as a result of how much weight they’ve lost, or if they have hit targets during the week. However, there’re also punishments if you put on weight, and you’ll score an own-goal for your team.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Ronan O’Shea is a journalist who found five-side as a way to relieve himself of the hardships of work.

“I try to play often. It’s a good way of getting out of the house if I’ve been at home all day working. I find it a useful stress relief and, of course, it’s great exercise,” O’Shea explains.

O’Shea, however, warns of some of the problems that could be faced by someone who wants to start a competitive sport like five-a-side but who has low-confidence, a reminder that all team-based sports come with a degree of pressure.

“As someone who suffers from low self-esteem and anxiety, on occasions I’ve come away feeling worse than when I started if I’ve played very poorly. I’m not particularly good at football, so I’ve found that the feeling that I’ve ‘let everyone down’ rears its head, even if no one has openly criticised me, or at least not other than in the moment.”

“As such, I think it’s really important for someone thinking of doing team sports for mental health reasons to consider how it could backfire.”

For more information, visit Twitter: @ManvFat

SPORTbible’s campaign More Than A Game tells the stories about football and its power beyond the pitch. Find out more here.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle Have Named Their New Mascot Lionel Nessi

[Orginally published in SPORTbible]

No one knows why football clubs have mascots, nor how the concept of them ever first came into existence – but have them they do.

You will be hard-pressed to find a side without one nowadays. These oddly dressed figurines are usually found pacing around the pitch during matchday but they vary in shape and size: some lanky and happy, some stumpy and grouchy, while some are just plain bizarre.

However, this latest mascot has come to public attention because of it’s uncanny resemblance to quite a famous footballing star.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi

Last weekend Scottish Championship team Inverness Caledonian Thistle (ICTFC) unveiled their own mascot named Lionel Nessi.

You see, if you didn’t realise the gag here, it’s almost like the player and global superstar Lionel Messi’s name, only the N has replaced the M, with reference to the Loch Ness monster, Nessy- a thousand year multi-ton monster which, somehow, some people still bewilderingly believe is actually a real thing.

Ah, maybe we’re being too cynical in our moderately youthful age.


The name is actually a fairly cute idea and one that originated from a couple of supporters at the club’s fan forum.

ICTFC Chairman Graham Rae explained that loyal season ticket holders Bob and Kath Fraser conjured up the name Lionel Nessi – further proof that all the best ideas start with the fans and rarely in a boardroom.

“I was immediately taken with the idea,” said Rae. “Nessie lives right on our doorstep and draws thousands of tourists from throughout the world to our area every year. For the football context, Lionel Messi is one of the best players ever to have played the game. Messi rhymes with Nessie – and so we have the splendid combination of Lionel Nessi.”

It’s not the first time Scotland has received national attention through their football club’s mascot. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Partick Thistle’s mascot, Kingsley.

If you have never stumbled across this little fella before you might be in for quite a shock. We don’t know what’s more concerning: the fact that Kingsley’s still going, or the fact that people once sat in a room together and conceptualised this absolute monstrosity.

Even still, there are no signs of the mascots ever weaning, particularly not in Scotland.

Cesc Fabregas Discusses Having To Train Against Lionel Messi

[Originally published in SPORTbible]

We’re no professional footballers, but we’d imagine trying to defend against Lionel Messi is a little like trying to replicate Michelangelo’s ceiling painting in the Sistine Chapel with oven mitts superglued to your hands; any attempt is futile and you’ll just end up making a very large mess of things.

However, we do now have some insight from someone who is a professional player, and who did, on several occasions, defend against the Argentine maestro.

Cesc Fabregas was speaking to TyC Sports about his former days at Barcelona with the world’s greatest. (That’s Messi, by the way. Ronaldo fanboys, the close button is far right of the tab.)

The two players spend time together in Catalonia during the true halcyon days of Guardiaolism and tika-taka football.

“There’s one story which stays with me, others I can’t tell you,” said a tight-lipped Fabregas, presumably not wanting to discuss all the occasions Messi utterly humiliated him.

“I had to defend against him and you know he’s going to the left, and he does, but he still makes me fall to the floor.”

Messi leaving defenders in his wake. Image: PA Image
Messi leaving defenders in his wake. Image: PA Image

Don’t worry, you’re nothing special, Fabregas. You can add yourself amongst a countless list of names that Messi has done that to.

In fact, the list has become so exhaustive that rumour has it you are never no less than 20 metres away from someone who was once ‘Messi-dropped.’

The former Barcelona man is holding no grudges, though, as he’s come out to defend the 30-year-old global superstar after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner received a bunch of criticism for his underachievements with his international club.

The pair have played together at Barca and against each other. Image: PA Images
The pair have played together at Barca and against each other. Image: PA Images

It’s one thing to drag a team along, it’s another to drag a whole country along, guys.

Fabregas added, “When everyone lauds him for what he does, it doesn’t seem normal to me that in [Argentina] they criticise him so much,”

“I can’t understand it because it’s where he should be valued the most.”

Not bad. If only Fabregas defended Messi as well as this on the pitch.

Words by Jacque Talbot.

Usain Bolt Scores In Borussia Dortmund Training Whilst On Trial

We all imagined it could never possibly happen, but it actually has. The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, has scored just his first goal for Borussia Dortmund.

Sorry, if you have no idea what I’m talking about. Please, let me fill you in. If you’re not up to speed and have been asleep for the past few years, basically the world’s gone completely crazy.

Donald Trump’s the US president, Britain voted to leave the E.U, Ed Sheeran sang in Game of Thrones, and athletes like Bolt can seemingly transition to other sports perfectly fine. (Arsene Wenger is still Arsenal manager, though. Sorry.)

It seems today that once you’re a professional athlete in a single profession, you’re capable of doing pretty much any other sport you like, without concerning yourself with the vigorous hard-work and multiple years of practice that comes with it.

You aren't supposed to go from this to being a footballer. Image: PA Images
You aren’t supposed to go from this to being a footballer. Image: PA Images

Trampoliners can turn boxers, cricketers can become basketball players, UFC fighters can box the world’s greatest boxers and track athletes can be footballers, no sweat.

Well, that’s what seems apparent after seeing the Jamaican sprinter Bolt in his first training session with Dortmund. The training was live streamed and even open to some of the public.

A pass was dinked through to the 31-year-old and he caught the keeper off-guard with a clever little glancing nod. Superb.

Thousands tuned into the stream, and they all thought he would fail, hopelessly. They thought that he would get his legs all tangled up over the ball and fall over like a very uncoordinated and confused robot in the middle of an ice rink.

But, no. Bolt has gone scored a neat little header in the session, and we’re a little stunned.

Why does Jon Venables Continue to be Granted Anonymity?

Jon Venables and his friend Robert Thompson were only ten when they tortured and murdered two-year-old James Bulger at a disused train station in Liverpool.

It was a sickening crime that shocked the nation, not only because it involved the torture and death of a young child, but also because the perpetrators were so young.

The crime was so abhorrent, in fact, that it’s still a controversial and heated topic to this day.

Not least because Venables, after being granted anonymity and given a brand new identity after serving eight years in prison, continues to be granted anonymity.

This is despite being convicted on two occasions for possessing child pornography.

On his first conviction in 2010, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for downloading and distributing child porn. The second time, just this month, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison after pleading guilty to possessing than 1,000 indecent images of children.

However, the now 35-year-old Venables is controversially still allowed to maintain his anonymity.

Tom Wainwright, a barrister for 13 years, tells LADbible why: “”When they are deciding whether to grant an injunction, the judge always has to weigh up a number of competing concerns.”

“This can include the concern of freedom of the press to publish the information, the public interest, the effect or risk on the person’s life or family if their real identity became public knowledge. But most importantly, the risk of the person being attacked or killed if their new identity was revealed,” Wainwright says.

There is a fear that if Venable’s identity was to be made public, there would be a serious chance of vigilantes attempting to harass or even seriously harm him or his family. This point was a highly important factor in the High Court judge deciding to continue Venables injunction in 2010, after his further offence.

“Children who commit serious offences attract even more interest and also have more chance of being released from prison at some point. This is why most of the cases involve individuals who have committed crimes when very young.”

“The more serious the crimes they have committed, the greater the press interest and the greater the risk of serious harm being caused to them if their details are published,” Wainwright says.

But some feel that Venables has blown his right to anonymity. And with regard to his crimes, they feel that he is a potential risk to children, so his identity should be exposed to the public.

They also make the case that Venables has already been handed two brand new identities, after telling friends that he was a convicted killer when his mental state had reportedly become fragile.

“Granting lifelong anonymity is a very exceptional decision for the courts to make. It’s also, ironically, only particularly notorious offenders who are likely to be granted such an order,” says Wainwright.

And none have become more notorious in recent history than the case of Bulger’s murder. It’s a discussion that will surely wage on for years to come.

It’s Easier to Buy a Gun Than a Beer in America

The devastating shooting at a high school in Florida last week, in which 14 students and three members of staff were killed by a lone gunman firing a legally purchased AR-15 rifle, is reportedly America’s eighth mass school shooting from this year alone.

With every killing spree that occurs in the country, the more calls there are for the government to tighten up on gun laws.

The trouble is that in America, bearing arms is considered a human right and is even written in its Constitution under the Second Amendment.

It has been argued that this is the reason why these attacks are so persuasive – but there are other theories too.

One of them is the low age at which citizens are able to purchase weapons. In America, you have to be 21 before you can legally purchase alcohol, and yet, in some states, the legal age to buy a rifle can be as low as 14.

Not only is the legal age considerably low, but also it’s frighteningly easy to buy a gun in America.All it takes is for you to head into a gun store, make your choice, undergo a background check – which can be completed in as little as a few minutes – and then, voila! You can walk out a proud owner of a gun.

If you want to buy an alcoholic beverage, however, you will have a much tougher time. America imposes strict drinking laws, with a majority of states even prohibiting the consumption and possession of alcohol in public places so you could be arrested on the street for just bringing a bottle of WKD round to your mate’s.

With guns, though, the laws in the States are much looser. Federal law says that licensed gun dealers cannot sell firearms to people under the age of 18 – however, there are variations of this law from state to state, and some states even bypass it entirely.

For example, in Vermont it’s legal to buy a gun at 16 without the consent of a parent or guardian, while in Minnesota you can legally buy a gun as young as 14, as long you make your purchase outside a city.

If maths isn’t your strong suit, that means in some states, as an adolescent, you can buy a powerful rifle, such as the AR-15 rifle reportedly used in Florida, perfectly fine – but you will need to wait another seven years to be allowed to buy a can of beer.

It’s no wonder, then, why some feel these laws have become a case of tradition and history prevailing over logic and safety.