A shocking assault by an amateur referee has raised fears that a match official may be killed in grassroots football.
Satyam Toki had to be treated by an ambulance team after being punched three times in the face by a player he sent off during a preseason friendly on Sunday.
The 28-year-old, who has a one-month-old daughter, says he was lucky not to be left blind or brain damaged and is now “afraid to officiate again” after the incident, which was filmed and shared on social media and was investigated by police.
Satyam Toki (pictured) was assaulted in a preseason game he was refereeing on Sunday and suffered a severe cut above his left eye after receiving three punches.
Toki fired the player and was later attacked with teammates forced to intervene
Toki told Sportsmail he is filing a complaint against his striker – who is a newly graduated teacher – because next time he “could bring a knife and murder a referee on the pitch.”
And the move was backed by referee groups, the Referees’ Association and Ref Support UK, who have both warned that an official will lose his life on the job unless he is given better protection and offenders be punished more severely.
In just the second weekend since amateur football resumed after the Covid-19 lockdown, Toki was taking charge of a friendly match between NW London FC – which play in the 11th Middlesex Premier Division – and Sporting Club de Mundial , a team from the Hackney Sunday League. formed by football magazine, Mundial.
But the game in Acton, west London, was scrapped after just 42 minutes when the India-born level five referee suffered a bloody eye after being repeatedly punched by a Mundial player.
Toki initially showed him a yellow card for dissent, an offense that leads to a 10-minute trash at the base, but then upgraded it to red after the player threatened him.
“I fired him and it all started,” said Toki, who works as a conductor and who, until this weekend, had the ambition to referee in the Football League. “He lost his temper and attacked me, hitting me three times in the face. He tried to attack me again but some players stopped him. He then fled from the ground.
The incident is by no means isolated and many referees have been abused
The match was abandoned and Toki is afraid to step onto the pitch and referee again
“I had excessive bleeding over my left eye. He wore a bracelet on his right hand. It was my mistake because I should have checked the jewelry before the game. But when he hit me, he grabbed me with the metal thing on his wrist. He hit me with something very sharp.
“The local team manager and I called 999 for the police and someone else called an ambulance. Luckily, I didn’t have a serious injury but he could easily have caught me in the eye and I don’t know what would have happened.
“My wife told me that I escaped very slightly. She said: “What if you had suffered vision loss or severe brain damage – how could my family have survived?”
“I’ve been refereeing for six years, it’s my hobby. But I’m really scared to go out and officiate again. I am still shocked by the incident.
“I can’t believe that sort of thing can happen in football, especially in a friendly match. I still imagine what would happen to me if it was a championship game with something going on.
“My family is concerned for my well-being and they don’t want me to go officiating again. I would now think 10 times to go back.
Toki believes he must have filed a complaint against his striker because he owes it to his fellow referees
“I get paid £ 40 per game, but no money is worth going out there and seriously injuring myself and being disabled for the rest of your life. “
Toki was initially reluctant to press charges, saying he was “influenced” by the police, who informed him that his attacker was a teacher and that he would lose his job. But after seeking advice from other referees on social media, he feels he owes his colleagues to take further action.
“If I do not file a complaint, this individual would run away and tomorrow, who knows, he could bring a knife and assassinate a referee on the ground,” adds Toki.
“It should be punished as much as possible as a lesson for any other individual just to think before doing this kind of action. Each team should have respect for someone who referees their match because if there is no referee, they will not play their match.
In a statement, Mundial said: “We categorically condemn the horrific actions of one of our players towards the referee. The individual involved was completely removed from the football club.
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson confirmed: “Police were called at 3:16 pm on Sunday August 9 for reports of an assault at a sports club in East Acton Lane, W3. The officers and the London ambulance service were present. Following the initial investigations, no allegations were substantiated.
A player had his hands on his head in disbelief during the shocking incident of the match
Sadly, Sunday’s incident was not isolated with footage emerging the same day from another match in London when a referee was knocked to the ground and surrounded by players.
In its latest published figures, the FA said there were just 61 assaults on officials in the 2017-18 season. But these statistics only include attacks that were reported and then proven in a hearing.
In a recent study from the University of Portsmouth, 18.9% of 2,056 referees interviewed in England said they had suffered physical violence on the pitch.
“We really believe that unfortunately someone will be murdered as a match official,” said Martin Cassidy, former Football League referee and now managing director of the Ref Support UK charity, which has helped Toki. “If that happens, we will hold accountable those people who we believe are responsible for not inflicting more severe punishments. “
In 2017, the FA introduced a mandatory five-year ban for anyone who attacks a match official, which can be extended to 10 years if they cause serious injury. For physical contact or attempted physical contact, a suspension of 182 days is recommended, with a minimum of 112 days.
Cassidy, however, believes referees should wear body cameras to enhance their protection and be able to prove infractions – but these devices are currently banned by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the rules of the game.
“We think it’s irresponsible not to even have a body camera pilot,” adds Cassidy, who is considering challenging the IFAB rule before the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “I’m starting to believe that they will only entertain a driver if a match official is killed.
Man, 28, has a young daughter and feels lucky he was not blinded or brain damaged
The Arbitrators Association is campaigning for tougher criminal penalties and has written to the Sentencing Council suggesting changes to their guidelines – a submission that won the support of 50 MPs.
In determining the sentence for assault, an aggravating factor for the court to consider is whether the offense was committed against those who “provide a service to the public”. Currently, however, this covers offenses against store workers and traffic cops, but not referees, leading to lenient sentences.
In 2018, amateur footballer Luke Nicholls avoided jail despite knocking out referee Henry Ifesi, while a year earlier Kieran Kimberley had also been spared jail after punching manager Craig Ward.
“One day we will talk about the death of a referee,” Referee association president Paul Field told Sportsmail. “All the warning signs are there for this to happen and we need to do something about it.
“It’s all about prevention. The work we do with the Sentencing Council is to have an appropriate deterrent to support the match officials.
“We need to improve the way offenders are sentenced. The next level would put us on par with a traffic or park warden. We are doing our legal duty and we do not expect to be attacked on a Sunday morning.
“Sunday’s incident was just shameful. Football has been waiting to restart for months and here we are in week two with an assault. This is the beggar’s belief.
“The FA has done everything it can, but there must be real deterrence behind it. It is time for the government to step in and the courts to back the match officials.
An FA spokesperson said: “We are aware of an incident that occurred during a preseason game on Sunday and we are working with the London FA to provide support and ensure that it is the subject of a thorough investigation. Supporting match officials, at all levels of the game, remains a key priority for the FA and for each of the 50 county federations across the country as part of the Respect the FA campaign.