Football: Elleray adds weight to safety issue

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The Independent Online
The referee David Elleray has revealed he raised serious concerns over the safety of match officials with the Football Association last season - almost a year before Saturday's violent attack on a linesman, Edward Martin, at Portsmouth.

Elleray, the spokesman for Premiership referees, has now stepped up his call for action to prevent a more serious attack, similar to the on-court stabbing of the tennis player Monica Seles by a spectator at a tournament in Germany a few years ago, taking place.

Martin, 38, now recovering at home from head injuries sustained in the attack which happened when a fan ran onto the pitch after he had helped to send off the Sheffield United goalkeeper Simon Tracey, believes it was a "one-off incident" and has appealed for the authorities not to over- react.

And Portsmouth, who have borne the brunt of the criticism for designating the First Division game a low-risk, "police-free" match, meaning there were only three police officers inside the ground, have insisted that they had done all they could to prevent the incident.

They were backed by Hampshire Police, who said the only way of ensuring that a determined spectator did not run onto the pitch was to reintroduce fences or to station hundreds of officers and stewards around the touchline.

Yet, as the FA awaited the referee's report before launching an inquiry into the incident, Elleray maintained: "There have been growing concerns at the highest level about the safety of match officials and this incident just highlights the fact that this concern was not misplaced."

Elleray said he voiced those worries to the FA after two incidents last season - when he had to stop a fan running towards Emerson during Middlesbrough's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final match at Stockport County and when another supporter allegedly tried to assault the referee Paul Danson at Everton.