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July 2021

IN MEMORIAM of the referee who died from a punch received during a youth match


Don McMahon


It is rare that I post such a sad and choleric post on UA’s generally positive website, but the news of a referee’s death from a punch recieved during a youth Football match in the US has triggered my rancour, anger and disgust at what is happening more and more in Football circles. Here is the url for the article about this poor man and his grieving family:

First, let me be clear, I am a retired professional referee and still do the occasional youth game for the enjoyment and pleasure it can give me, so I am most definitely writing from a neutral perspective. I was going to say for the kicks as well but that seemed inappropriate and insensitive given the nature of this post.

What I truly want UA readers to understand is that a tragedy like this is ENTIRELY avoidable but the needed solutions have NEVER been addressed adequately by the authorities, governors and stakeholders in Football, for the following reasons:

1) It is my opinion, supported by facts, that game officials are seen, more and more, by spectators, parents, some players and even managers and coaches, as the villians, when things don’t go right with their respective plans for a match.  Being dismissed from a match, having a penalty awarded against you, suffering the occasional missed and erroneous calls has become sufficient justification to abuse and intimidate the match official(s) by all and sundry.

There is NO Law, either civil or sporting, which either tolerates, permits or encourages such abuse, intimidation or confrontation, yet we see it endlesslty in both amateur and professional circles….with the added opinion that its ONLY ¨human¨ to do so! Was it human to kill a referee for having the nerve to show the criminal a yellow card?

2) Despite the veneer of ¨respect¨ and ¨tolerance¨ that football governing bodies constantly vomit at Football’s participants, when SAF rants and sputters his obscene apopletic seizures at an unfortunate official, it is all accepted as being Fergie’s Scottish nature and managerial nous that permits him to be ¨unique¨ and ¨charmingly¨ rural during a match. We then see Barca and other teams’ players surrounding the referee and berating him or her in a vein attempt to ¨reason¨with them.

Why don’t we just provide bullhorns toon-field players? They can blast their criticisms at the official to ensure that he or she does take notice. Fifa, Uefa, the respective FA’s and amateur football administration need to grow a pair and start really punishing such mobbing behaviour. A referee’s person is sacrosanct and in many other sports having any contact, whether violent or passive, is strictly forbidden….but not in football.

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3) When I was officiating actively, our Provincial Referee’s Association, came very close (on at least 2 occasions) to going on strike after repeated violence against their members. We were reassured that the victims would be protected and that the perpetrators AND their Clubs would be ¨severly¨ dealt with by the FA.  The victimized officials had reported the assualts to the city police who had opened up an investigation.

Our esteemed provincial FA decided that a 3 game suspension in each case (there were 4 assualts in one month- I think the moon was full the entire month) was sufficient , despite 2 officials having their noses broken and 2 others being repeatedly spit on and kicked in the back by the cowards.

What really peeved us was the provincial FA’s threat to suspend, for life, any official refusing to continue refereeing regardless of the inherent dangers. As for the police, they refused to continue with the investigations, citing the supposed legal precidents for assualts on participants during a sports venue. We later learned that the FA had contacted the constabulary and told them they were not going to pursue the perpetrators because they had been ¨disciplined¨sufficiently by the discipline board.

4) The unfortunate Mr.Portillo had already been injured (broken leg among other things) by Football thug players in his 8 years as a referee but apparently such assualts are ¨part of the game¨ or so we are told! Two of my colleagues went as far as  pressing criminal charges as private citizens and both were told by the judges that they were ¨loathe¨to interfere in the sports disciplining process as that was ¨different and apart¨ from the ordinary civil protections everyone is entitled to (except officials during ,before or after a match!).

One official, who was also a lawyer, asked the judge if he would have agreed to hear the case had the exact same thing happened between two people just outside the soccer grounds, in a public place. the judge said that he would have been ¨obliged¨ to hear the case IF police had prosecuted the attacker. So if you’re on the field you have to rely solely on the Football authorities but if you change and walk on the street you can rely on English common Law or Napoleonic as the case may be.

After all this ranting, I simply wish that our bloggers will spread the word to all and sundry in our Footballing community;


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9 comments to IN MEMORIAM of the referee who died from a punch received during a youth match

  • WalterBroeckx

    Thanks Don. I will have my say on this also and put things in a perspective that is sometimes forgotten.

    A terrible thing and after the killing of an assistant referee just a few months ago in Holland we cannot let it go like that.

  • Andrew Crawshaw


    Hear Hear! There can be no excuse for physical assaults on match officials by anyone, players or spectators.

  • Adam

    This article highlights so, so, very much that is wrong with sports. This in itself challenges the questions of late, is football still a sport or business?

    With the extreme emotional connection, it is undoubtedly still a sport, that also operates outside of common law, which has been pointed out time and again on this site.

    My sympathies goes out to all who are affected by violence of any kind.

    This particular matter (within the sporting environment) could have been avoided, by bringing sports inline with law a long time ago, the ambitious that find themselves at the top of our game should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this situation to arise.

    To intervene between the criminal process and its victims is usually termed “perverting the course of justice”, and its about time that any association member found to be contacting the authorities in this capacity, should be dealt with, and prosecuted.

    Why has someone got to die before the authorities intervene?

  • I agree, sometimes the authorities are far too lenient on referee assaults these days.
    My local authority, Guernsey FA, have been much stricter. Some players given “sine die” bans, when I was spat at (hit my shorts), the player concerned got 6 month ban .

    But I do wonder at the premier league, how referees allow players to shout and swear at them, (lip reading from TV displays what they are saying). If that happened in one on my games, the red card would get plenty of use

  • ian

    I played Sunday football and never witnessed any attacks on referees but did witness a referee be intimidated by the crowd and players of the opposing team to a worrying extent.

    We played a Cup game away from home, you could tell that the Ref was scared. The most concerning moment happened when our left back shielded the ball out of play for a goal kick. We were making our way out of the area when the forward kicked the ball into the net, he shouted goal, the ref was then threatened and awarded the goal.

    We were then advised by the ref not to make too much noise about it. Game ended 5-0. Proves there are some awful people around and unfortunately when the Ref is intimidated to that extent it makes a mockery of the whole sport.

  • weedonald

    Paul…..Thanks for your support and story. Why can some local associations apply strict rules concerning such behaviour and yet organizations and authorities earning millions of Euro, fail to even handle basic abuse and other forms of intimidation against all Football’s stakeholders?
    Ian….the intimidated referee (from the kids matches to the EPL) is both a danger to the players, to himself and most certainly to the credibility of Football. If an official, whose fundamental job it is to make the tough but fair calls, is scared and bullied into favouring one side out of fear and concern for reprisals, then the game has indeed been subverted! The EPL referees know what side their bread is buttered on and if they want a career in the EPL they had better kiss enough ass to ensure they keep their places. If that means tolerating abuse and mobbing, then so be it! I agree with you that in decent league competitions, the red card would be out a lot more often.
    I have seen enough cowards in the middle of the field or on the lines, who made ¨popular¨decisions to avoid being confronted by angry spectators or players. They simply succeed in getting us honest referees into hotter water when we don’t bend or submit to their bullying tactics. What concerns me is that we seem to have limited protection when we respect our values and the ethics of the game, because forces more powerful and more influential than us, can punish our forthrightness at will.

  • nicky

    It’s about time referees were ordered to apply the Laws of the game more strictly. Red cards for the appalling scenes in the penalty area during corners and set pieces. Red cards for any instances of bad language used towards the officials.
    Of course, FIFA would have to put its own house in order first…..a major task.

  • Rufusstan

    Sadly it comes back to the FA again.

    As with everything, if the authorities set strict rules and enforce them, then the problem goes away.

    I’m not sure you will ever eliminate tragedies like that of Mr Portillo as you cannot legislate against that kind of moment of madness.

    What you can do is reduce the continual stream of abuse that refs have to endure.

    It does lead me to wonder if the PL refs are the best we have, or just the ones that can deal with all the crap.

    As always with this stuff, I draw Rugby parallels. A while back there were worries about assaults rising, so the RFU cracked down. Punch a Rugby ref and you could well be looking at a lifetime ban.

  • Kevin

    Should not the big clubs especially Arsenal accept some responsibility for the lack of respect shown to referees. Firstly George Graham and then Wenger (and yes Fergie) have allowed players to persistently take on the refs to try and influence their decisions. Tony Adams has talked about this in the past and the impact on young players is well documented.