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A national helpline is being launched to support referees who suffer abuse during matches.

It will be manned until midnight on weekdays and 10pm at weekends, with calls answered by experienced officials including former Premier League assistant referees.

The line goes live at 10am on Saturday 2 September.

It is being operated by charity Ref Support UK. Chief Executive Martin Cassidy said: “Referees, particularly those who are new to the game, can want a shoulder to cry on. We will be there.”

Operating hours are designed to give officials enough time to make contact even if they are unable to call at their current location.

An answer machine will take calls out of hours, but Ref Support UK pledge to return the call within ten minutes.

There are an estimated 40,000 amateur referees across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Ryan Hampson, an 18-year-old referee, has been punched, spat at and headbutted during matches.

“I remember being in the changing room feeling very lonely, very scared and intimidated. It would have been great if I could have picked up the phone and spoken to someone who specialised in this area.”

The idea for a helpline grew out of an amateur referees strike in March, which was organised by Mr Hampson in protest against the abuse he had suffered.

Mr Cassidy added: “This hotline will help retain referees because they will have someone independent who can offer support.”

Experts will ask the official if they require physical assistance or if they would like the police to be informed of the incident. Cassidy believes referees could even use it during half-time.

“The person on the end of the line can help calm you down and explain what you need to do next”, according to Mr Hampson. “That is so much better than having to send an email after the match.”

More than 2,000 officials joined Mr Hampson in his walkout earlier this year. He now referees for Lancashire FA and is enjoying the experience, but says abuse is still taking place.

“I heard about a referee who was assaulted last week. Unfortunately it might happen today.”

Martin Cassidy acknowledges that the abuse of referees remains a significant challenge, but believes it is possible to eradicate.

“The end goal is to delete this phone line because it is not needed.”

 


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