The beautiful game has turned ugly

WHEN it comes to amateur football in the Lothians, it is clear the beautiful game can be anything but.

The Evening News has uncovered details of a raft of cases of violence as temperatures boil over on the field, including assaults on referees, opponents – and even teammates.

In a list of suspensions currently being served by local amateur footballers, it has emerged that 14 have been deemed serious enough to warrant bans of at least a year.

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It comes after the governing body of the leagues said it had cracked down on certain elements of physical abuse, like headbutting, in the last year as it strives to eradicate the game of unsavoury off-the-ball incidents.

Among the flashpoints in the last 12 months was Broughton player Alan Meyer allegedly threatening an opponent at the end of a match before going on to disrupt a presentation ceremony. He was banned until 2014.

Stephen Allison, who turns out for Livithistle AFC, was said to have headbutted an opponent in a fixture, as was Blackridge's Gary Burton. Both received year bans. And Scott More, of St Bernards, was banned for two years after apparently spraying water from a bottle at an official.

One former referee, who wished to remain anonymous, said he turned his back on it as a direct result of the attitude and aggression of players.

The 28-year-old spent a few seasons refereeing youngsters' and adults' games across the Lothians. He said: "The reason I got involved in refereeing was because I wanted to stay involved in the game but wasn't really good enough to play to any kind of level.

"I didn't go into it thinking it would be a breeze, but the reason I gave it up was purely because of the abuse from players, and particularly the sidelines. Every week you could count on some kind of abuse and that really wears you down after a while. The game wouldn't go ahead without a ref, you are doing these guys a favour by showing up.

"I was never assaulted physically, but there were plenty of threats. At the time, you just have to get on with it."

The treatment of referees by players is something that has been focused on more in recent years. The English FA has its own Respect campaign, while world governing body Fifa has also highlighted the importance of officials not being the target of player frustration – at all levels.

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Len Blackie, who has refereed for many years in the area and helps with the recruiting of officials, insisted there had not been a noticeable rise in abuse.

"Naturally I would be against any type of abuse towards referees, but I wouldn't say there were a great many incidents. Most referees are thick-skinned enough to deal with a bit of banter from the players and spectators."

Local associations also said the crackdown had naturally rooted out offences, rather than the problem getting worse.

Charles Gallacher, the president of the Lothian and Edinburgh Amateur Football Association, said the problem had to be put in perspective, and that matters of violence and aggression in this area were small compared to the west of Scotland leagues.

"These things can often be blown out of proportion," he said. "We have 3,000 players in the association and probably another 1,000 who come and watch every week, and it is a tiny minority who get brought in front of the Scottish Amateur Football Association. Some of the offences listed, like a headbutt, could mean even a headbutting motion, or two players going head-to-head.

"That's not to say it doesn't happen, and when there is a problem we move to try and sort it out. If someone decides to headbutt another player, it is a conscious action, and it is a society problem rather than a football one."

In some cases of violence, criminal proceedings are brought, but the amateur authorities keep judgement on footballing issues completely separate.

President of the Scottish Amateur Football Association (SAFA) Angus Mackay said: "We take a hard line on things like violence towards referees, and things like headbutting and spitting."

Refs bear the brunt

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ONE of the most shocking incidents of violence during a football match in recent years was seen in Edinburgh last year.

Referee Tam Carter was left with a bloody nose after being head-butted while officiating an under-15s match at Peffermill.

The attack followed a bad-tempered encounter between Leith Athletic and Ayr Boswall, which culminated in a youngster from the latter side attacking the experienced official.

Officials from the Leith club were appalled at the incident, and said it took the shine off their impressive cup win.

It was the latest in a string of violent incidents which had blighted amateur football in the city.

Last May, a football match had to be called off after the referee was allegedly attacked by one of the players. The East of Scotland Premier League match between Dalbeattie Star and Edinburgh City was abandoned 18 minutes into the second half. Referee Alastair Aitken was knocked to the ground at the Islecroft Stadium, Dalbeattie, by an Edinburgh City striker.