Mark Halsey refereed top-flight Premier League matches for 14 years and suffered for it PIC: Reuters
Mark Halsey refereed top-flight Premier League matches for 14 years and suffered for it PIC: Reuters

A former Premier League referee has claimed the stress of officiating matches could drive an official to suicide.

Mark Halsey called for more to be done to support referees in the job because the pressure placed on officials threatens their mental health, and could even "destroy" them.

The 52-year-old voiced his fears for football officials in his new autobiography, being serialised in The Sun.

Halsey took charge of Premier League games for 14 years before retiring at the end of last season. During his long spell in the game, he was the target of abuse - including jibes about his battle with throat cancer on Twitter last year.

"There is no hiding place on the field and you have to be mentally tough. But it also follows you off the field more and more now and it can destroy you," he wrote.

"I do feel that referees should get more help to cope with the increasing level of mental strain. In my view, given some of the episodes of recent seasons, it will not be long before a referee has a nervous breakdown.

"I also believe that if we do not do something to help referees with mental health and stress issues, then we could see a suicide."

Facing strong criticism and even threats can overwhelm even the top officials in the game. In 2005, Swedish referee Anders Frisk quit his job as one of Europe's foremost officials after being bombarded with death threats for sending off Chelsea's Didier Drogba in a crunch Champions League clash with Barcelona.

In his book Added time: Surviving Cancer, Death Threats and the Premier League, Halsey also highlighted the case of a referee in Germany's Bundesliga who slashed his wrists in a bath while receiving treatment for depression;

Calling for better assistance for referees from the governing bodies, Halsey was critical of the response of the body representing officials in the UK. He claimed there was inadequate support from the Professional Game Match Officials Board for the abuse he suffered on Twitter.

"I got little support from my bosses apart from a call from Mike Riley, the head of the PGMOL, and one from the Select Group manager Keren Barratt asking if I wanted to come off my next game at Southampton," he said.