Referee once assaulted by player says Aleksandar Mitrovic must get 10-game ban
A grass-roots football referee who was the victim of a vicious on-field assault has urged the Football Association to ban Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic for a minimum of 10 games.
Satyam Toki is adamant that bad behaviour in elite football sets an example that is amplified where there are no television cameras and warned that the current crisis of verbal and physical abuse in amateur football will only escalate without tougher action over high-profile incidents.
Toki and the charity Ref Support UK both despaired earlier this month when Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes escaped sanction after he dismissively placed his hand on the assistant referee’s back during their 7-0 defeat against Liverpool.
Mitrovic was sent off for shoving referee Chris Kavanagh during Fulham’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday and, was charged by the FA, along with his manager, Marco Silva on Monday. After the FA launched its “Enough is Enough” campaign to tackle referee abuse, officials now want clear action.
“The ban should be at least 10 matches,” said Toki, who required medical treatment for a cut eye after three punches were aimed at his face by a player from the Hackney-based Sporting Club de Mundial.
Toki was forced to abandon that match after 42 minutes but was ultimately thankful that the injuries were not more severe and that the player was restrained by team-mates and even opponents.
His attacker had an initial 10-year ban reduced to five and, for the sake of referees at all levels of the pyramid, Toki says that the FA must urgently send the message that it is completely unacceptable for players to lash out and physically touch referees.
“If you don’t stop a lower-level incident [like Fernandes] it will just get bigger and bigger – and this is what happened,” said Toki. “Of course what happens at the elite level has an impact lower down. Premier League clubs are followed all over the world. Every incident needs to be dealt with. If that is happening at the top level, imagine what is going on where there are no cameras.”
Martin Cassidy, the chief executive of Ref Support UK, called on the FA to ban Fernandes for at least five games earlier this month and believes that there is a direct link between the inaction and the Mitrovic incident.
“You reap what you sow,” he said. “The FA didn’t deal with it. Now we see this predictable escalation in what is one of the most prestigious competitions in the world. It was not just the push. You can see that Mitrovic also then went towards the referee’s face.
“And it all comes just after an opportunity was missed to send a strong message about how match officials should be treated. That is shameful. Referees are just classed as fair game.”
Cassidy, who has called on the League Managers’ Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association to take action in educating their members, also now wants a stronger message of condemnation from Fulham. Manager Marco Silva argued after the game that Mitrovic did not deserve more than the standard three-game ban for a straight red card and highlighted perceived refereeing mistakes.
“He pushed the referee, but I hope the people who are going to decide, decide with what the moment deserves – we have been very unlucky with Chris Kavanagh this season,” said Silva, before complaining that Kavanagh had not awarded Fulham a penalty earlier in the game.
Toki, who is a train conductor, was left in tears and questioning his future in grass-roots football refereeing after being punched. He described the disciplinary system in amateur football as “really weak” and wants life-time bans for referee assaults.
Grass-roots referees in England have this year become the first football officials in the world to wear body cameras in an attempt to tackle physical and verbal abuse.
This followed an FA request last June to football’s lawmakers following warnings since 2016 that many referees were operating in fear of physical violence. The problems have been repeatedly evident again this season. The Merseyside Football League, which has more than 150 teams, cancelled all of its matches one weekend before Christmas in direct response to “multiple incidents of inappropriate and threatening behaviour”. Match officials were also considering whether to hold a national strike.
A questionnaire this season by the BBC found that, out of 927 respondents, 293 grass-roots referees had experienced physical abuse from a player, spectator or coach.
Almost all of the respondents (98 per cent) had also experienced verbal abuse and more than a third said that the abuse had affected their mental health.
The FA has said that it is determined to tackle the issue head-on “through stronger sanctions, leading innovations and a new three-year refereeing strategy”.