Police investigate after referee Kevin Clancy received ‘threatening and abusive’ messages

Referee Kevin Clancy's contact details were published online. Credit: PA

Police are investigating "threatening communications" after referee Kevin Clancy received abusive messages in the wake of the Celtic-Rangers match on Saturday.

Rangers manager Michael Beale claimed Clancy had got two major decisions wrong during his side’s 3-2 defeat, one of which being a disallowed early goal from Alfredo Morelos.

The Scottish Football Assoiation (SFA) said on Monday it had “referred a significant volume of threatening and abusive emails to Police Scotland after personal and professional contact details” of Clancy were published online.

The SFA's chief executive Ian Maxwell said some messages - sent over email and phone - were "potentially criminal" and included threats and abuse towards the referee and his family.

Police Scotland said on Tuesday: "We are investigating alleged threatening communications which were reported to us by the SFA today.

"All reports of this nature are treated with the utmost seriousness and will be investigated thoroughly. We will provide support to those affected as our investigation progresses."

Kevin Clancy was criticised by Rangers for his performance. Credit: PA

The SFA also confirmed that its referee operations team had responded to Rangers’ request for an explanation for the Morelos decision.

The body that represents match officials, the Scottish Senior Football Referees’ Association, condemned the “wholly unacceptable level of abuse” directed towards Clancy.

A statement added: “Referees are not immune from criticism and accept there will always be legitimate debate on subjective decision-making.

“However, when this becomes targeted threats and abuse, impacting on their personal and professional lives, this clearly crosses the line.

“We continue to offer our full support to Kevin and all our members, many of whom have experienced an increase in abuse this season.

“We welcome the Scottish FA’s strong support to protect referees and the wider image of the game.”

Mr Maxwell added: “Football is our national game. It improves and saves lives.

"Without referees, there is no game, and while decisions will always be debated with or without the use of VAR, we cannot allow a situation to develop where a referee’s privacy and safety, and those of his family, are compromised."

A Rangers spokesperson said the club condemns “in the strongest terms any abuse of match officials".

"We are all passionate about our game, but targeted, personal abuse of referees cannot be tolerated," they added.

The spokesperson also said the club was "astonished" to hear the SFA backed the decision to overrule the Morelos goal, and referred to England's referee group the PGMOL apologising for not giving Brighton a penalty against Tottenham

“While an apology does not alter the outcome of a match, such responsibility and openness would be welcome in Scotland.”

Is abuse of referees on the rise?

Data obtained by ITV News reveals that police were called to reports of referees being abused 64 times in 2022.

This suggests that a referee somewhere in the UK felt threatened enough to call police more than once a week last year.

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That's based on responses from 27 police forces in the UK out of 46, meaning the true figure is likely far higher.

Based on the responses, the most incidents were recorded in Manchester, with eight calls to police.

In one of the more shocking reports, North Wales Police recorded a referee at a children's football match assaulted and thrown to the ground by one of the parents.

An off-duty police officer there at the time helped the referee back to his car.

A BBC survey in February found 293 officials had been physically abused by spectators, players, coaches or managers out of 927 Referees’ Association members who responded to a survey.

The figure who had experienced verbal abuse was much higher – 908 out of 927.

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