Referees share shocking stories of abuse to It's All Kicking Off

One ref was threatened with a knife, another had his jaw broken… referees share shocking stories of abuse to Mail Sport’s It’s All Kicking Off in a bid to clean up the game

  • Grassroots football referees have opened up on the abuse they have received
  • They told stories of being physically assaulted and having their lives threatened
  • The curse of our game is abuse of referees, we are not doing enough to stop it. The punishments must be HARSH – It’s All Kicking Off

Mail Sport’s weekly It’s All Kicking Off podcast (IAKO) has unearthed shocking first-hand evidence that tells of the shameful physical and verbal abuse that is driving hundreds of referees away from football.

As standards of behaviour towards referees and match officials from players and managers in the Premier League continue to plummet, IAKO hosts Chris Sutton and Ian Ladyman spoke to two referees who have walked away from the game in recent months.

Both 25 years old, one was threatened with a knife and the other had his jaw broken after sending someone off during a five-a-side match.

Although it would be wrong to blame the professional game entirely for problems that are partly societal, Sutton believes it is the duty of managers and players at the top level to set a better example.

The former Premier League winner and British-record transfer told the podcast: ‘Across the board, football needs to take responsibility on this one. And it starts at the top.

Abuse towards referees has worsened in recent years, both in the Premier League and further down the football pyramid. Above, Newcastle and Arsenal are seen arguing with Stuart Attwell

Grassroots referees have opened up to Mail Sport on the horrific abuse they used to receive

Mail Sport’s podcast hosts believe abuse towards referees has grown worse in recent years

‘It starts with Premier League players and Premier League managers showing respect to referees and officials. And I have got to say, in recent seasons the abuse towards officials seems to be, in my mind, getting worse. And that’s my concern.

‘There is a decline in refereeing numbers across the board at grassroots level and you know where this is going to lead to eventually. There won’t be enough left.’

Refereeing numbers are thought to have decreased by a third in the last five years. Meanwhile a survey carried out by the BBC in April found that, of 927 interviewees, only 15 had never been abused.

By contrast, a third had been physically attacked, 57 had received death threats and 378 said they sometimes worried for their safety while they were refereeing matches.

One referee, 25-year-old Rhys Baldwin, quit the game after 11 years earlier this year. He told IAKO yesterday: ‘I was refereeing a five-a-side game and Team A captain ran up to me screaming in my face and called me a bunch of names. So I gave him a red card. He went off the pitch, went into his bag, pulled out a Stanley box cutter knife and stormed on to the pitch towards me.

‘His own team-mates basically rugby-tackled him to the floor and pinned and pulled him outside the gate. I locked the gate and I said I’m not leaving until this guy is dealt with.

‘I spoke to the guy in charge and he asked me not to call the police and foolishly I agreed. He said I would get an apology next week. But I didn’t get an apology. He threatened to knock my head off.

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Chris Sutton admitted it was ‘shocking to listen to’ the football referees’ experiences of abuse

Mauricio Pochettino (centre) admitted he was wrong to react angrily at officials at the end of Chelsea’s eight-goal thriller against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge earlier this month

City’s Ruben Dias (left), Jack Grealish (centre) and Phil Foden (right) argue with Anthony Taylor

‘I dropped the cards on the floor and walked off. I never went back.’

Baldwin finally gave up refereeing after the father of a 12-year-old boy threatened to kill him at end of a cup semi-final. He says he knows many others who have walked away from the sport as well.

In the Premier League there has not been a straight red card for using abusive language for 11 years, and in the lower leagues they are experimenting with sin bins which see players leave the field for 10 minutes if they insult an official.

At the top level, though, the malaise continues to worsen. Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino was the latest transgressor when he screamed in the face of the fourth official two weekends ago after his side’s 4-4 draw with Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Former referee George Sleigh believes behaviours must change at the top but also at the bottom, where he feels young kids should be taught the importance of respecting referees. For the 25-year-old teacher, all this has come too late.

He told the podcast: ‘I was physically assaulted. I was still at university but was reffing to a good standard two or three times a week. I was doing some five-a-side refereeing like a lot of us did and I abandoned a game one night because of the level of abuse towards me.

A former referee told Ian Ladyman (above) that he once had a parent threaten to kill him

Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes complains to the referee after playing Luton

Jurgen Klopp argues angrily with officials during Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Spurs last season

‘I ended up with a broken jaw. I had to have surgery and had two metal plates in. The guy who did it got a suspended prison sentence.

‘This was refereeing guys who were supposed to be playing for fun. The guy was standing outside.

‘I had already sent him off for his use of language towards me and then a while later I abandoned the game. That fella just walked up to me without warning and assaulted me.

‘I was in hospital for three or four days. After that I just lost the love for it really.’


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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