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07th Dec 2022

Sunday League football has become so violent players turn up to matches armed with knives

Jack Peat

League bosses say it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets killed 

Sunday League football has become so violent that players turn up to matches armed with knives, FA officials have warned.

League bosses say local playing fields are increasingly being turned into ‘battlegrounds’ as players, coaches and supporters clash on the pitch at grass roots level.

It includes weapons ­such as knives being taken to matches prompting fears somebody will be seriously hurt or killed as the ugly scenes increase at local games.

Referees are also being threatened and intimidated leading to a shortage of match officials as they are too scared to turn up for Sunday League matches.

The Nottinghamshire FA said they are currently investigating several incidents of threats of violence, intimidation and physical assaults.

One official said he had ‘never seen it so bad’ with referee numbers at an all time low due to the abuse they receive during games.

“Toxic behaviour” 

The damning revelations come just two months after it emerged 380 players and coaches were banned for attacking and threatening referees in England last season.

The FA report for 2021-22 recorded a significant catalogue of ‘toxic behaviour’ against officials in both youth and adult football.

Darrell Parkes, an official with the Nottinghamshire Senior League, said: “We have standards we have to set and these are standards that are agreed to by the clubs in our league.

“If there are issues of violence or allegations of people bringing weapons to the game, it is important that people and clubs report it to their league and the relevant authorities so we can help resolve the issue.

“Clubs know who these violent people in their organisations are, they know who are taking knives to games and who is prone to violence.

“Clubs need to act and stamp it out, they need to be more proactive.

“I fear it is only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or even killed as threats and violence increases at local football matches.

“Clubs also need to look in the mirror when they discover that they cannot get a referee for their games and ask themselves why.

“We don’t have sufficient referees at the moment for games and many leagues are in the same boat.

“I’ve never seen it as bad as this and until clubs start stamping this out ­— starting at the management level, it is only going to get worse.

“It is in the best interest of all clubs to call out this poor behaviour.”

Referee abuse

Last week, the FA chaired a disciplinary hearing into an alleged incident of abuse towards a referee by a coach in the Nottinghamshire Senior League.

An independent witness reported: “I witnessed the coach, aggressively shouting at the young referee, in a very threatening way, and players trying to step in to prevent the situation from escalating.

“The coach looked absolutely out of control, was screaming at anybody who was stepping in the way and trying to diffuse the situation.

“He was walking menacingly towards the young referee, and threatening the rest of us to get out of the way.

“I escorted the young referee, along with one of the caretakers, to a place of safety as I was extremely worried about him getting hurt by the coach of the team.

“The young referee was shaken, and obviously concerned.

“This young referee was due to ref another match and decided he was unable to fulfill his role, as he was still terrified by what had just happened.

“The amount of shouting from coaches, parents, swearing from players, complete lack of respect for the referee’s decisions are regular occurrences.”

Another incident in Nottinghamshire featured an attack after a game where no referee could be found – so both teams provided their own official for each half.

After the match between Rose and Crown Reserves and Rutland Arms ended 7-7, the acting referee from Rose and Crown was allegedly struck.

Nottinghamshire Senior League secretary Dennis Rawle said the offending player’s registration was immediately cancelled.

He added: “This is the first year I know of where we have had to play games without a bona fide referee.

“Last weekend alone, there were seven games in our league without referees.

“It seems to be becoming a normal part of grassroots football.”

50-man brawl 

In October, referee Dave Bradshaw was left with broken ribs, concussion and a broken nose after being assaulted during a 50 man brawl in Wigan, Lancs.

Martin Cassidy, head of charity Ref Support UK, said his “biggest fear is receiving a call to say that a match official has been murdered on the pitch.”

He told ITV News the recent report about last season’s bans did not begin to account for the full scale of the issue.

He said: “The situation in the UK is clearly escalating.

“The figures published by the FA do not begin to reflect the true scale of the problem because it only accounts for those found guilty.

“We know of so many cases that are going unreported because local referees for instance are too afraid to speak up given that they live near to their tormentors.”

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