AT this time of goodwill towards men, I hate to turn to one of the nastier aspects of football, which we all like to believe is the ‘beautiful game’.

However, I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the seemingly growing number of referees being assaulted by players.

One 25-year-old local player has just spent Christmas in jail after receiving a year’s sentence at Reading Crown Court for assaulting a referee at Bracknell.

Since then, another local referee has been punched and head-butted. In this part of the country, the number of incidents are fewer than in the Midlands for example, where large numbers of games are abandoned every year through violence.

Many may recall the 17-year-old referee in Manchester, who last season claimed to have been head-butted on three occasions and spat on several times in his three years as a referee.

He also complained about the lack of sympathy from the footballing authorities and asked all referees in local football throughout the country to join him in a one-day strike.

He didn’t achieve his target, but thousands of referees did withdraw their labour that weekend, an indication of how widespread the issue is.

‘This sends out a strong message that assaults on referees will not be tolerated,’ said the FA, on the local court punishment, but many think football’s authorities are part of the problem.

Competitions have wished to refuse applications from clubs with poor disciplinary record or registrations for known trouble makers, but County FAs, mindful no doubt of the ever-decreasing number of adult, 11-a-side clubs, have not permitted such action.

Referees have complained that when attending the hearings of misconduct, they are the ones who appear to be on trial and not the player.

Players and club officials need to be reminded of Law 5 which says: ‘The decisions of the referee and other match officials, must be respected’.

Any assault on a referee should mean a five-year ban from all football. The game doesn’t need these players.