Grassroots football referees are considering a national strike after an official suffered severe injuries - reported to be a broken nose, broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, a broken collarbone and concussion - during a “serious assault” on Sunday.
The referee, Dave Bradshaw, was admitted to hospital after being attacked by a Platt Bridge player during a game against Wigan Rose at Platt Bridge.
Greater Manchester Police are investigating, and appealing for witnesses from a crowd of more than 100. The Football Association have also launched an urgent investigation.
The incident happened just a week after the charity, Ref Support UK, warned Telegraph Sport that an official would get “murdered” without urgent change and called for FA action to increase sanctions for abusing referees. Officials are now openly discussing the possibility of astrike.
A survey by The Referee Forum, an online group of 17,000 people which supports and connects referees, had already found last week that more than 75 per cent of their community would support a strike.
'How long until a referee dies?'
“These assaults are happening weekly - I would say two or three times a week I’m hearing of a referee getting assaulted,” said Ant Canavan, a referee of almost 20 years who runs The Referee Forum.
“We just feel abandoned. Last season was the worst it has even been. You think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ This week it was Dave Bradhsaw. Who will be next? How long until a referee dies? Does something that big have to happen to change the game. We want to get there before we step off the edge.”
Referee groups have called on the FA to introduce lifetime bans for violent behaviour, points deductions and body cameras so that interactions with players are all recorded. It is thought that this will act as a deterrent and assist with collecting evidence.
Bradshaw, who also referees community rugby and is well known on the grassroots football circuit in Lancashire, said that his “confidence has been smashed to bits” after "a very traumatic 12 hours" but urged people not to tarnish Platt Bridge as a club “because of one person”.
It is understood that the assault occurred after Bradshaw had sent off the player.
The police said that they were made aware of a “serious assault” at 6pm on Sunday which left the referee with “significant injuries” and in need of hospital treatment. “As over 100 people attended the game, officers are asking anyone with any information, including mobile phone footage, to contact them,” said a statement from Greater Manchester Police.
Platt Bridge FC said that they were “ashamed of what has happened” and said that “the player is no longer playing with our team going forward”. They also said that they had apologised to the referee.
Another referee, Jamie O’Rourke, said that it was “time for us to take our own action and down tools until people learn”. He added that the “saddest part of the stories from this weekend is nobody in the game is shocked”.
There were also separate reports of an Under-16 game being abandoned after a referee was assaulted. The Telegraph reported last week how another referee, Satyam Toki, had been left deeply disappointed after a player who aimed three punches at him - causing a cut eye - had an initial 10-year ban reduced on appeal by the FA to five years.
'Refs need to know the FA actually do care'
The FA had taken the unusual step of writing to every grassroots participant, whether coach, player or parent, at the start of the season to warn that ‘inappropriate’ behaviour went too far last season and that they will consider harsher sanctions.
The nature of those potential sanctions was not disclosed, prompting Ref Support UK to outline its own proposals.
"When the FA say ‘enough is enough’ what exactly do they mean?" said Martin Cassidy, the chief executive of Ref Support UK. "Does anyone really know? Refs need to know the FA actually do care and will support refs taking a week or two of action and stop refereeing. The FA need to state clearly the date of the body cam pilot and what leagues are delivering them.
"They need to support a points deduction for teams found guilty or ref abuse and assaults. They need to show they are not waiting for a match official to be murdered. The time is now to show that they mean why they say 'enough is really enough'."
An FA spokesperson said that they were addressing Sunday’s assault. “We are aware of incidents of assault on a match official and a player during matches played this weekend in Lancashire,” said a spokesperson. “We have been very clear that all forms of anti-social behaviour, abuse and assaults on match officials and participants are completely unacceptable and we will not tolerate this in the game. We are investigating the incidents as a matter of urgency, working with Lancashire FA who are liaising with the police and supporting the match official and player affected.”
In 2019, the FA introduced sin bins to help reduce abuse directed towards referees at grassroots level. They say that there has since been a reduction in the number of serious misconduct cases. According to FA figures, there were 1.1 serious cases per 1,000 fixtures last season. This figure, however, relates to proven cases and referees have told The Telegraph that many incidents go either unreported or cannot be proven.