A teenage football referee who says he has suffered a catalogue of abuse on the pitch – including being headbutted by an angry player – is calling for a nationwide strike in protest against the treatment of officials in the game.
Ryan Hampson, from Withington, Manchester, has been refereeing matches in the region for three years, since the age of just 14.
Ryan, still just 17, says he is already sick of ongoing verbal, and even physical, abuse from players, coaches and spectators. He has been spat on, headbutted and drenched with water, he says.
Ryan has issued a call-to-arms amongst his colleagues in the grass roots of the game to walk out in March.
The Northenden College student says he has already been contacted by dozens of other refs willing to join him.
Ryan first began refereeing kids’ games when he was a young teenager, reports the Manchester Evening News .
Since he turned 16, he has been refereeing in open-age leagues, which include pub teams and club sides, across the city.
He says on numerous occasions his treatment has made him want to quit the sport all together.
Ryan, who is currently studying to be a social worker , but dreams of becoming an elite referee said: “I do it because I love it, and most games are enjoyable and people are friendly and respectful.
“But the abuse carries on. One time, about three months ago, I gave a free-kick which one team didn’t like and 10 of their players surrounded me.
One headbutted me, another one spat at me.
“Other times I’ve had water thrown at me and been stopped from going into my changing room.
“And I’ve had enough of going to appeal hearings, where weeks before I’ve been physically assaulted and abused, and felt like there is no way I can carry on, and then hearing the verdict is ‘not guilty’.
“Most of the time there’s no support – you’re completely on your own. You only get an assessor there if you’re up for promotion.
“So you’re isolated and vulnerable.
“It’s horrible. If someone did those things to you in the street they’d be arrested or whatever.
“And it doesn’t just affect you that day, it affects you off the pitch for days and weeks.”
The FA launched the Respect campaign in 2009 to crack down on ‘unacceptable behaviour’ in the game, which they said was leading to thousands of referees and players quitting the sport.
They say the situation is improving but former St Paul’s Catholic High School pupil Ryan says the refereeing community as a whole needs to send a message.
He said: “Without a referee you wouldn’t have a game. Everyone needs to understand that.
“It isn’t just about the FA, although we do want to see them and league committees doing much more.
“It’s about sending a message to everyone, clubs, players, coaches, that this is not on and has to stop.
“On the pitch we are on our own, but off the pitch we are a big community and our voices need to be heard.”
The FA have been contacted by the M.E.N for a comment.