Referee abuse in the non-league game needs to be dealt with before "someone is murdered over a football match", a leading charity has warned. 

referee holds yellow card up

Credit: Hartlepool, UK - August 3: Referee Steven Coleman shows Joe Barden the yellow card during Hartlepool United v Sutton United

By Steven Oldham

FA must do more to protect officials

Martin Cassidy, CEO of RefSupport, spoke after being anonymously passed a video clip of Bristol Manor Farm boss Lee Lashenko confronting referee Richard Lawrence after his side’s 2-1 home defeat to Paulton Rovers in the FA Trophy. 

The clip, which has since been viewed over 190,000 times on RefSupport’s Twitter account, shows Lashenko being restrained by his own players after being shown a red card.  He had been booked earlier in the game for dissent. 

Cassidy pulled no punches in his comments and was critical of the FA’s approach to referee abuse, citing financial penalties have little effect on some clubs and managers.

He said: “I genuinely don’t think the FA will make stronger punishments or change things until someone is murdered. When that happens, we’ll be pointing the finger at the FA and people like Lashenko who had a chance to change things. I really fear that will happen, but I don’t think that anyone will be surprised. It’s happened in other countries, so let’s address the problem before it gets there.

“There’s no other way to put it - the FA make money out of abuse. Lashenko will rightly get fined for this, but that money won’t go to Richard Lawrence - that money will go to the FA. Other than the Mafia, I don’t know of any other organisation that makes money out of abuse. How do they get away with it?

“We’ve asked them to look at points deduction for serious offences. If it’s a sporting penalty then the club will then begin to take responsibility. Let’s look at regulations to deduct points, and watch them change,” he said.

Moment of referee abuse madness

Speaking to Bristol Live, Lashenko has since apologised, but refused calls for him to resign and claims he was provoked by the referee.

Speaking on the matter themselves, the club in question Bristol Manor Farm, have also released a statement, which reads as follows:

“We would like to share our sincerest apologies for the distress caused following the incident that occurred at last weekends’ fixture at The Creek vs Paulton Rovers.

“As a club, we do not condone nor encourage the type of behaviour that was displayed on Saturday, and will be taking the necessary action to ensure that this does not happen again, as this is not something that our club represents.

“We will be consulting those from Bristol Manor Farm FC that were involved with the situation accordingly, and will also work closely with the relevant governing bodies regarding the matter, where required.

“We would like to extend our wholehearted apologies to all of the players, management, committee members and the supporters, alike with the match officials who were all in attendance at Saturday’s fixture for what was witnessed”

The club declined to make any further comment when asked.

Referee abuse going unnoticed

RefSupport are an independent charity providing support, training and advice for new and existing match officials across the country.

Cassidy believes both the national and county FAs are simply not doing enough to prevent the abuse received by referees on a weekly basis. He wants to see the issue treated as seriously as other forms of discrimination.

Assistant football referee and Referee's flag

Assistant football referee and Referee's flag

“Games are getting abandoned, because refs are being threatened over a throw-in. I’ve written to the FA to ask them to work with us and Kick it Out to address all forms of abuse in the game. Referee abuse seems to be accepted as fair game.

“We correctly address homophobic and racist abuse, but when it comes to referees it’s accepted.

“Following the social media blackout earlier this year, some of the first tweets back were abusing referees. The hypocrisy is absolutely breathtaking. If it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable. As a charity with a high social media profile, we now challenge football clubs who do this,” he said.  

Damaging footage

The viral video doesn’t make pleasant viewing, and Cassidy is disappointed that a club such as Manor Farm is having its reputation damaged by these events regarding referee abuse. 

A man is seen running onto the pitch and putting his hands on the referee, telling him in no uncertain terms to get back to his room. 

A West Country resident for over 30 years, Cassidy believes Lashenko’s position is now untenable.

“Manor Farm have asked me to meet them, but I’ve refused -  I’ve told them ‘I wont meet you until you sack him.  You’re condoning his behaviour by keeping him on.’

“He’s one of the main funders of the club, so I understand it’s a difficult financial situation to be in, but you can’t prostitute yourself in situations like this just because you might lose playing budget.

“There are people at the club like Geoff Sellek who’s a top man - the club has been a good club for a long time and to see them wounded like this by an individual is really sad to see.

“We’re getting anonymous reports from clubs, players and officials in that league saying the manager has to go. He’s been behaving like this for a long time, the only difference is now he’s been caught on camera. Since we posted the video, there've been four further reports of similar behaviour.

“When you see it in all it’s horribleness, you realise what referees go through and have done for a while. There’s a guy that runs on to the pitch and pushes the referee. The club are denying it, but we believe he’s a member of the committee. That’s evidence that this is systemic behaviour at the club. If that man thought he could run on the pitch and push the referee, and not do the same to his manager who was the aggressor, that just proves the point” he said.

An essential part of the game

It’s often seen as a thankless task, but football, as we know and love it simply, wouldn’t exist without referees. 

While unsavoury incidents such as Saturday’s are unlikely to convince people to pick up their whistles, FA statistics show that last year, 79% of existing referees signed up for the current season.  Over 5,000 new referees are trained each year.

In a statement to, an FA spokesperson said:

"We are clear that all forms of abuse, whether on or off the pitch, is completely unacceptable and we will continue to do everything we can to stamp out this behaviour from the game. Match Officials play a crucial role in creating a safe and inclusive environment for all participants and The FA works very closely with our 50 County FAs around the country to recruit, retain, support and develop the referee workforce to service the game and give them the best experience possible. The retention of all referees is crucial and this remains a priority as part of The FA’s wider Respect campaign."

Stiffer punishments for physical contact with match officials have also been put in place this season, with offenders looking at a ban of up to two years.

In addition to their statement, the FA said they were aware of the incident at Bristol Manor Farm and were investigating the events and reviewing the referee’s match report.

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