An assistant referee was hit by a flare/smoke bomb in an English Premier League game on Sunday October 20, 2013.
This appalling incident happened during the Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspurs game at Villa Park in Birmingham (central England).
Fortunately the assistant referee, David Bryan, was uninjured and decided he was OK to continue his duties.
The irony of this most unsavoury and disturbing incident is that the missile was thrown from an area of the ground occupied by the visiting Spurs fans and happened just moments after they had taken the lead.
Was this an act of celebration or an act of irresponsible and reckless thuggery?
The Football Association (FA) has promised a full and comprehensive enquiry.
That’s all very well and commendable from an association that appears to have lost its balls when dealing with such thuggery.
Many times in the past they have been found wanting in areas that affect referees and refereeing. We are all too aware of their lack of backbone when dealing with the Mark Halsey affair and the false and malicious accusation of racism by Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel against referee Mark Clattenberg.
What happened in that case? Nothing. Was Mikel disciplined? No. Did Clattenberg get an apology? Yes, but a very luke warm one and nothing else.
Given their past record, I’m not expecting too much from them in this case. In fact, it will probably be brushed under the carpet with the collective hope of the FA Board of Directors that it will go away.
You have to look at the bigger picture here to realize that this incident could have had serious consequences and a man could have been seriously injured.
I wonder how many people have seen the sight of a body or a person’s skin that has been damaged by melting nylon? Well, I have and it’s not pretty. It’s downright gruesome.
Referee uniforms are made of a nylon type material. Nylon doesn’t always ignite but rather melts. Try putting a plastic bottle into the fire and you will get the idea of what I’m talking about.
Do we always have to wait until the horse has bolted before closing the gate?
Do we have to wait until someone is killed [again] before taking action?
Why can’t we be more proactive?
Serious questions have to be asked about the security, or the lack of it, at this and other high profile games.
Were body searches carried out on fans entering the ground?
How was this individual allowed to get into the ground with such a missile?
How many other “fans” had similar or other dangerous implements with them and went completely undetected?
Referees and their assistants have to be comfortable in the knowledge that they will be protected when carrying out their duties. It is the responsibility of the powers-that-be to ensure that they (the refs) WILL be protected.
Clubs also have a responsibility to have sufficient security to ensure that match officials are safe and protected at all times.
This kind of thuggery has to stop and if the people in authority fail to act to stamp out this cancer in our “beautiful game” then more drastic action by the referee’s body themselves needs to be considered.
About the author: Dr Errol Sweeney (PhD) BBA Dip.PM, aka “The Hanging Judge,” is a former L.o.I and SA Premier League Referee, World Cup Referee & Assistant Referee Coach & Mentor. He coached/mentored a referee to 2 World Cups, Olympic Games, Confederations Cup, 2 U/17 FIFA World Cups and 4 African Nations Cups.