Richard Nieuwenhuizen
The president of the Dutch Football Association places flowers on the pitch of the soccer club Buitenboys to commemorate linesman Richard Nieuwenhuizen who died after he was attacked at an under-17 match. There are fears the same could happen in England Reuters

While there is no shortage of enthusiastic parents cheering on their children while they play football, one English youth league chief has warned that this is spilling over to violence which could end in tragedy if left unchecked.

Over one weekend of youth matches, a parent threatened to stab a referee, another headbutted a linesman and young players threatened to smash up a changing room.

In response, the chairman of the Surrey youth league Graham Ekins has written to all the clubs warning if the Sunday morning violence did not ease, firmer action would be taken.

"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 in a message emailed out on Tuesday (23 February).

"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," The Times reported.

He was referring to how 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.

A study by Loughborough, Portsmouth and Edge Hill universities last year found that nearly two thirds of referees in England, the majority at grassroots level, said that they experienced regular verbal abuse.

Ekins has suggested that the league, which has about 11,500 children in teams with ages ranging from under six to under 18, could withdraw all referees if the aggression does not abate.

Referees, who are paid £15 to £30 a match, are said to have been driven away from the game because of the abuse, with ten serious incidents across 200 matches in one weekend, The Times added.