The family of a teenage referee who was surrounded by a mob of pitch-invading parents at a youth football tournament today pledged she would bounce back from her terrifying experience.
Baines School pupil Emma Hickson, 15, from Poulton, was refereeing an under-10s match between Manchester side Platt Lane City and Liverpool team Litherland Tigers when an unpunished tackle sparked the ugly scenes.
Parents stormed on to the pitch to vent their fury at Emma, who was reduced to tears and had to walk off the pitch.
It happened at Bispham Junior Football Federation’s annual tournament on Sunday – just a day after another match in the tournament was abandoned when a 10-year-old player launched a “kung-fu” style kick at an opponent in a weekend of shame.
In that match, on Saturday, shocked Bispham Junior Football Federation coach Darren Brown ordered his team of 10-year-olds off the pitch after one of his players was hit in the ribs by the studs of a player from Manchester side SocaTechnix in the under-11s section final.
Today Emma’s mum Karen Molloy, 45, said football was her daughter’s life and she would not allow Sunday’s shocking events to put her off the game. Emma plays for Preston North End under-16s and has been refereeing for around a year.
She said: “She lives for football, she has loved it since she was five years old. She wants a scholarship to America playing football and she went down the refereeing route because it is good for confidence.
“She accepts she is going to get some criticism but not to that level. She was very upset at the time. It is now a case of getting her confidence back.
“Her confidence has gone down and now she is nervous about reffing again which is a shame because it is what she wants to do. There is an investigation ongoing and she will move on and focus on going back to school.”
After speaking to the distraught referee, tournament officials expelled Platt Lane City and Litherland Tigers from the competition.
The ordeal came after another incident the previous day when Bispham Junior Football Federation Under-11s manager Darren Brown ordered his team off the pitch following what bosses called a series of dirty challenges from their opponents, culminating in a kick into the ribs of one of their players.
Today Mr Brown, 47, who works as a scout for Everton, said it was the worst incident he had seen in 25 years of youth football and said his young players were lucky to avoid injury.
He said: “Football and respect were just taken out of the equation altogether, it was unbelievable.
“When it happened I went on the pitch and he was black and blue.
“I understand it’s not great procedure to send children off at football, but the way they behaved was outrageous.
“It all happened really quickly. (Their player) didn’t go anywhere near the ball, his feet actually went into the side of his ribs.
“I was not far off stopping it before then.
“I have been in football for 25 years and I have never seen anything like it in my life. It was unbelievable.”
BJFF chairman Andy Griffiths said: “Our players were in floods of tears, Socatechnix won’t be coming back to our tournament.
“We felt, at the end of the day, our coach took the right decision.
Club vows to apologise to teenage referee
Litherland Tigers chairman John Ellison, who was not present at the game, said: “We will be writing to the girl who was refereeing and her mother to apologise for what happened.
“Apparently it was something and nothing that turned into a Liverpool/Manchester thing with the two sets of parents. We will be carrying out our own internal review.”
Platt Lane City and SocaTechnix could not be reached for comment about the incidents at the weekend.