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How long before a referee is killed?

The disgraceful and unprovoked attack on a soccer referee in Durban on Saturday during a PSL league match between Lamontville Golden Arrows and league leaders Kaizer Chiefs brings back memories of a time which I thought had been consigned to the history books.

During those times referees literally took their life in their hands performing what is for all of us an unthankful and underpaid profession.

It’s called refereeing

The spectator ran on the field and assaulted the referee Chris Mfiki with a vuvezela. The thug swung the vuvezela at the unfortunate referee and were it not for his (the ref) evasive action he could have been seriously injured.

All of this happened in front of thousands of fans at the stadium and many more hundreds of thousands watching on television.

Security were quickly on the field to remove the intruder but by then the “damage” was done.

Thank goodness Chris Mfiki was unhurt and was able to continue with the game.

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Whether this was an isolated incident or a preplanned attack on the match official doesn’t matter. The thing is it happened and the consequences of what might have been are too horrible to think about.

How ironic that only one week ago I complained about the unwise and ill-advised comments of Bloemfontein Celtic coach Clinton Larsen who uttered those prophetic words “the less said about the referee the better.” That is provocative language and can be done without.

One has to ask the following questions:

  • Given that this was a high profile game, why was the security so lax as to allow such an invasion of the pitch?
  • Was sufficient security numbers deployed to cater for such instances?
  • What if this thug has a machete?
  • What if this thug had a knife?
  • What if this thug had a gun?

I’ll give you the answer to all of the above. Tonight we’d be mourning the loss of a dear friend and colleague who, like most referees, give of our time and energy to officiate at games for a lot less reward than the players on the field receive.

We’re certainly not in it for the money, that’s for sure.

I have more questions for which answers are required:

  • Have we learned nothing from the past experiences?
  • Do we close our eyes and ears to what used to happen when referees were physically molested?
  • What about the times when we had to run a gauntlet of disgruntled supporters to the change room after a game?
  • Remember the assistant referee who was kicked to death by thugs in Holland?
  • Remember in 2006 when top Fifa/Uefa referee Anders Frisk resigned because of death threats from a certain section of Chelsea supporters?

For me personally I have very clear memories of an assault in Umtata in 1988. I was appointed to referee the BP Top 8 quarterfinal between then Umtata Bucks and Free State Stars.

On that occasion I red carded Umtata Bucks defender Laban Lande having previously warned and yellow carded him and all this before halftime.

At the end of the game spectators ran on the pitch to remonstrate with me and my assistants.

Were it not for the timely intervention of the late Clarence Mlokoti, who was Match Commissioner on the day, I would have been seriously injured or even worse.

As it was I received a punch with a clenched fist to the back of the head before my assistants and I reached the safety of the dressing room.

This incident in Durban is, in my opinion, serious enough for the PSL to review it’s security arrangements for match officials at all games.

At a time when South African soccer is under the spot light for all the wrong reasons we hardly need any more negative publicity.

The quicker this problem is dealt with and the perpetrator punished to the full extent of the law the better for all concerned

Happy Whistling
Dr Errol Sweeney
World Cup Referee Coach and Mentor
Email: thehangingjudge88@gmail.com
Twitter: dr_errol

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