Footballer broke ref's jaw after sending off

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The Independent Online

A football referee was left lying unconscious on a pitch with a broken jaw after he sent a player off for violent conduct.

Ref Andy Parker had red-carded 20-year-old Joe Preston during a game in Leicester when, it is alleged, the player ran back on to the pitch and punched him.

The St Andrews FC midfielder was swiftly suspended and police and the local Football Association (FA) branch are now investigating the incident, which happened at his club's Canal Street ground on Saturday.

Mr Parker, 50, of Whitwick, Leicestershire, said: "I sent a person off for violent conduct and he's taken exception to that. He didn't like it. I showed the red card, turned away and suddenly 'bump' I am on the floor.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life. I am totally gobsmacked."

The incident happened during the East Midlands Counties League match between St Andrews and Gedling Miners' Welfare as the home side were 3-1 up. The game was abandoned after 85 minutes.

St Andrews joint manager Darren Bradley said: "We don't condone Joe's actions and he will never play for the club again after this, but he is completely gutted and he can't believe what he did.

"I think the whole place was stunned. The lad was genuinely distraught.

"He's had a lot of pressure on his mind. What I do know is that he's taken himself to the doctor to get help with anger management."

Mr Preston, of Thorpe Astley, had played with the club since junior level.

He told the Leicester Mercury he was ashamed of his conduct, saying: "The referee didn't deserve what happened to him. I had no right to do what I did. I am writing him a letter apologising for my action.

"I don't think I could tell him face to face, as I am ashamed of myself. He was just doing his job and I was completely out of order."

Chris Parkin, football operations manager of Leicestershire and Rutland County FA, confirmed the player was the subject of an investigation by the body.

He said: "A player has allegedly struck a referee. It's been reported to us and we are following due process as laid down by the FA."

He said the player had been suspended immediately and charged under FA regulations with assaulting a match official.

Such incidents are "thankfully extremely rare", said an FA spokesman.

The association is trying to improve players' behaviour towards match officials through its Respect campaign.

The spokesman said: "Every season there are a handful of very serious assaults in which the police get involved and they are completely unacceptable. Anybody who attacks a referee in that way will be banned for life. This is at the very extreme end.

"What we are concerned about is that referees are walking away from the game every season because the general conduct is poor towards them."

Leicestershire Police confirmed a 20-year-old man from Leicester had been arrested and bailed in connection with the incident in the city at the weekend.