Football: Referees urge FA to halt assaults

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THE REFEREES' Association spokesman, Peter Willis, has urged the Football Association to come down hard on players who manhandle officials.

Willis would not comment on Tuesday night's incident involving Crystal Palace's Fan Zhiyi and referee Terry Heilbron, when the Chinese defender is alleged to have pushed the official after the game at West Bromwich Albion. However, he expects the FA to make an example of any player who lays hands on a referee.

"Players have no authority to touch a referee at all, in any way, shape or form," Willis said, "and I would expect the Football Association to deal appropriately with any player found guilty of laying hands on the referee.

"The law of Association Football regulations say 182 days' - six months' - suspension for the lowest form of assault. That is the recommended amount.

"The referee will submit his report in the normal way, and I am sad that another referee has been, reportedly, manhandled. It must be stopped.

"If Mr Heilbron has been manhandled then he would expect the governing body to take the appropriate action in accordance with their rules."

Willis is concerned about a growing number of incidents of attacks on referees, including Paolo Di Canio's shove on Paul Alcock on 26 September.

"We are averaging about 300 assaults a year on referees," he said. "But fortunately they are isolated incidents, probably about 12 very bad physical injuries a year."

Palace themselves are waiting for the referees' report on the incident before making any further statement.