'That lump there will be there for the rest of my life': Dave Bradshaw talked about the assault he endured, as Claire Hannah reports
Bans were given to 380 players and coaches for attacking and threatening referees and match officials in English grassroots football last season, according to a damning Football Association (FA) report.
The report for 2021-22 recorded a significant catalogue of "toxic behaviour" against officials in youth and adult football.
The report comes in the wake of an attack on a highly experienced referee from Wigan on Sunday 2 October and as a charity head slams the report as "unrepresentative of the scale of the issue".
Dave Bradshaw was left concussed and broke several bones while officiating a Remembrance Cup fixture between Platt Bridge and Wigan Rose.
The attack happened after he gave a player a red card and has prompted the referee to say "it is only a matter of time before someone is killed".
Dave said: "This is just the tip of the edge, it's getting worse.
"I hope I'm wrong but I hope a referee doesn't get murdered because of what happens on a football pitch.
"You've got your premier league players and pundits who are picking up on every single little decision a referee makes and being scrutinised. A referee can make one mistake and they're the worst ref on the planet."
A 24-year-old was arrested by Greater Manchester Police after the incident.
GMP told ITV the suspect remains on bail while enquiries continue.
Martin Cassidy, head of charity Ref Support UK, said his "biggest fear is receiving a call to say that a match official has been murdered on the pitch."
Speaking to ITV News about the FA bans he said the recent report did not begin to account for the full scale of the issue.
He added the charity estimates incidents of threatening and abusive behaviour are triple that indicated by the FA.
He said: "The situation in the UK is clearly escalating. The figures published by the FA do not begin to reflect the true scale of the problem because it only accounts for those found guilty.
"We know of so many cases that are going unreported because local referees for instance are too afraid to speak up given that they live near to their tormentors.
"Speaking out could put them at real risk as they go about their daily lives, on the school run and so forth - they are left afraid that they could bump into these people at any time."
Mr Cassidy said the FA's current system of managing abuse and threats against referees and other match officials is defunct and does not work properly.
But he said it is unlikely to change as the bans and sanctions see money paid as a punishment to the FA.
The Ref Support UK head accused the FA of profiting off these incidents and said nothing is going to change until "someone is murdered".
Ahead of the attack on Mr Bradshaw, charity Ref Support UK warned an official is likely to get "murdered" without urgent change and called on the FA to increase sanctions for abuse against referees.
Officials are now openly discussing the possibility of a strike. Around the globe, referees have died after attacks from players.
In June, Jose Arnoldo Amaya, 63, died of internal bleeding in El Salvador after being attacked by players and supporters during an amateur league game. He was taken to hospital but could not be saved.
Several other incidents of "inappropriate and threatening behaviour" towards officials prompted the Merseyside Youth Football League to cancel all of its fixtures for the upcoming weekend.
It said: "We cannot allow this toxic behaviour to continue to escalate."
Sanctions for last season's incidents - which occurred across thousands of games - ranged from 112 days to eight years.
The punishments came in a season where grassroots referees protested over the abuse they faced on the pitch.
In August, referee Satyam Toki told ITV's James Webster of a horrifying attack he faced in 2020.
Satyam gave a player a red card shortly before half time and was left in shock when the player then clenched his fist and punched him in the face three times.
The injuries to Satyam's face luckily left no permanent damage, but after seven years as a referee, it made him consider giving it up.
No police action was taken against the player who attacked Satyam, but he was banned from football by the FA for ten years, which was later reduced to five on appeal.
An FA spokesperson said: "We have been very clear that all forms of abuse, whether on or off the pitch, are completely unacceptable, and we will continue to do everything we can to stamp out this behaviour from our game.
"While it is a small minority of people that act in this way, this is still too many. This season the FA launched the new Enough is Enough campaign, making it clear that action will be taken against anyone whose behaviour is unacceptable.
"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."
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