Sunday morning football is a “powder keg waiting to explode”, says a referee who is quitting after allegedly being assaulted by a player for the second time in his career.
Ross Hawkes claims he was attacked by a Brereton Town player last weekend while in the process of sending him off for dissent during a cup game against fellow Cannock Chase Football League side Talbot FC.
The 36-year-old says he was punched and kicked, leaving him with a cut eye and injuries to his legs. The game was abandoned and Staffordshire Police say it is investigating reports of an assault.
The incident comes seven years after Hawkes – who is paid £30 per game – was assaulted by another player.
“I have been assaulted twice and it has got worse. The third assault? I do not like to think what that might be,” Hawkes told BBC Sport.
“I do not think I can carry on or want to – the risks are too dangerous. Why should I put up with that on a Sunday morning? No amount of money would make it acceptable”.
The Football Association says it has “offered support” to Hawkes and a “disciplinary process will take place at an appropriate time”.
In a statement, Brereton said “measures have already been instigated to deal with the incident” and that they “do not condone any aggressive or disrespectful behaviour”.
The dad-of-two from Staffordshire, who has been a qualified referee for 20 years, says he has seen a trend of players becoming more physical towards officials.
“Verbal anger, threats and aggression are not working on referees because we have become immune to it,” said the journalism lecturer. “You start to see them bumping you, jabbing you in the chest to make their point.
“To me, the next logical step is what happened to me. My fear is what happens after this? What does it take to realise Sunday morning football has a huge problem.
“It is a powder keg waiting to explode. Players are getting away with what they like. There is no sense or acknowledgement that this is a massive issue – someone will go a step too far.”
Hawkes said he was thankful that players from both teams stepped in to stop the attack.
He added: “I have had people on Twitter saying ‘what did you do to provoke the reaction?’ – I just refereed a game of football.
“I can’t see how I can go back out there and referee with any sense of security – you are out on your own. If a team or player decides to turn on you, you’re at their mercy.
“We are the reason the game goes on, on a Sunday morning. Players who think we are bad, imagine how bad the game will be when no referees turn up.
“I did it because I loved football and wanted to be involved in some way.”
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