Touchline violence increases in youth football


London - Violence on the touchline at children's football matches in England has become so severe someone may soon be killed, an official responsible for running a youth league has warned.

According to a report in Wednesday's edition of The Times, over one weekend of youth matches in Surrey, a south-east county which includes part of London, a parent threatened to stab a referee, another headbutted a volunteer linesman and young players, encouraged by their managers, threatened to destroy a changing room.

The report said at least three games were abandoned in the county's youth league that weekend.

League chairman Graham Ekins, in an email letter sent to member clubs on Tuesday and quoted by The Times, has warned the violence is out of control and that it won't be long before someone is killed if parents and other touchline followers don't improve their behaviour.

"Would you want your name associated with a children's competition that resulted in the death of someone as a consequence of violence?" he asked.

"Don't believe it wouldn't happen. It did to a linesman at a children's match in the Netherlands three or four years ago. If this continues I fear that this may be the result here."

In 2013, six teenagers and the father of one of them were found guilty of kicking a linesman to death in the Netherlands after a junior match.

Ekins said he was prepared to withdraw all referees, a move that would effectively close down the league in which 11,500 children between the ages of six to Under-18 take part, unless there was a marked decline in violent conduct.

There have long been reports that volunteer referees across all English youth football are turning their backs on the game because of the abuse they receive.

"This cannot continue," Ekins said. "The clubs and people involved . . . should be ashamed of themselves. Don't blame others, look at what you did or didn't do, and don't blame the ref."

In 2008, England's governing Football Association launched the Respect campaign in a bid to encourage better behaviour.

Now, in junior matches, parents are supposed to stand behind a rope to keep them away from the pitch.

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