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MIRROR MAN AND EX-GRASSROOTS REF AARON FLANAGAN: It's lonely.. I was headbutted by a boss who threw my match fee at me in pound coins.

Byline: AARON FLANAGAN

IT'S true what they say about refereeing: it is a lonely profession.

Especially at the grassroots levels, where you really are going it alone.

I always took great pride in my refereeing, even when the going got tough. But after one especially difficult day on the pitch as a young and usually-enthusiastic 19-year-old, I never felt more alone.

That's because at the end of the game, I was attacked.

It was a lively Saturday League match in the north west of England.

The home team lost their heads late on and gave me no option but to send off two of their players. The manager followed for his abusive remonstration.

He had appeared to cool down at full-time. As I stepped into my changing room, he called me from the door and wanted to know if I would be reporting the red cards. He asked: "Ref, are you sending those in?" "Yes, I will be," I responded, as he stepped inside.

"Even mine?" "Yes I have to, sorry." He sighed and turned his head to one side as his rage returned. "Why the f*** should I be f****** banned for that," I vividly remember him saying.

As he spoke, he got angrier and louder. He edged closer to me, our chests almost touched. And then it happened. He headbutted me. I stumbled backwards, holding my face, as he disappeared out of the door.

He returned a few minutes later with his hand clenched. Without saying a word, he launched my match fee of PS25 - all in pound coins - at me, before slamming the door.

For the first time, I felt the loneliness of refereeing. I was humiliated. As I crawled around the floor picking up my money, I felt vulnerable.

But yet, as I sat at home the next week, after taking a voluntary week off, I missed being on the pitch. There was no question I was returning, but no surprise that others would not.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:AARON FLANAGAN
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 29, 2019
Words:329
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