Football: Referees and linesmen on receiving end of Iberian anger as Israelis indulge in in-fighting

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SPAIN

It seems unlikely that Jesus Gil, the outspoken president of Atletico Madrid, sent too many Christmas cards to referees this year. He was certainly not happy with Miguel Perez Lasa, who took charge of his club's 3-1 Primera Division defeat to Barcelona last weekend.

"It's the limit. I think there was an agreement for them to score goals in the second half," Gil raged. "It was robbery, a scandal. The referee must have been drunk."

This outburst came only two weeks after top-flight Spanish referees went on strike for one round of fixtures, in protest at abuse from players and club officials.

Last weekend their less well-off colleagues in the lower levels had to suffer more than verbal attacks. In the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions no fewer than four matches saw referees or linesmen suffer physical assaults.

A linesman was concussed by a full water bottle hurled from the crowd at an Atletico Madrid B-team fixture, another was pelted by stones at Pegoso, and a referee was punched in the stomach by a fan at Puerta Bonita.

At Novelda, in the worst incident of the day, a linesman was taken to hospital after being hit on the head by a seat thrown from the stands.

"Until one of us is murdered, it does not seem that people are going to be concerned about the seriousness of the situation," Antonio Lopez Nieto, one of Spain's top referees, said.

"This weekend, thank God, we all escaped alive but a tragedy could have occurred. Referees and linesmen in the lower divisions are playing with their lives each Sunday."

Lopez Nieto called for maximum jail sentences to be imposed on anyone convicted of assaulting match officials. He did not rule out another strike by referees and linesmen.

ISRAEL

In Israel last weekend the trouble was not fans assaulting officials - but linesmen fighting each other. According to Ha'aretz newspaper, the scrap broke out in a taxi taking the referee Eyal Tzur and the linesmen Shai Ossidon and Reuven Gino to a league match. Ossidon, who has just been awarded a Fifa international badge, reportedly said to Gino: "I am going to officiate in Europe and will do duty-free shopping in London while you will have to make do with Ashdod and Ashkelon," - apparently the Israeli equivalents of Coventry and Barnsley.

Gino, it seems, was not impressed, and the two came to blows and had to be separated by Tzur and the taxi- driver. The referee made a report to the Israeli Referees' Association, which is investigating the affair.

iran

Iran have replaced the head of their Football Association, firing Dariush Mostafavi, who had caused controversy by trying to replace the popular coach, Valdir Vieira, after he led them to the World Cup finals.

Reports in Tehran said that Mohsen Safaei Farahani, a former official in the ministries of energy and industry who was on the FA's executive board, has taken over.

Mostafavi, who had held the post for the past three years, and who officially resigned for "health reasons", had been accused of delaying Iranian preparations for the World Cup finals by seeking to replace Vieira - who is a national hero despite being a Brazilian - with either Johan Cruyff or Carlos Bilardo.

COLOMBIA

America Cali players were stripped nearly naked by their fans after they won the Colombian title last weekend.

After a 2-0 win over Bucaramanga which sealed a 3-0 aggregate success in the championship play-off, hundreds of supporters broke through a police cordon and stripped all the America players of their kit and any jewellery being worn. Undeterred, the team managed a lap of honour - draped in flags. It was their first title since 1992.

Argentina

Argentina is setting up a special police unit with powers to deal with worsening football violence after a fan was shot dead at a First Division match.

A decree will make the fight against violence the direct responsibility of the government's Security Department, which will set up a database of known hooligans.

Last Friday, a 24-year-old fan of San Lorenzo was shot in the head at a game against Huracan. A police helicopter filmed fans pelting each other with stones outside the stadium, and ignoring the body of Ulises Fernandez stretched out on the ground. The dead fan turned out to be a godson of Ubaldo Fillol, the goalkeeper with Argentina's World Cup-winning side of 1978.

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