World Football — 08 May 2013
Time for change after death of referee – The sad case of Ricardo Portillo

A number of weeks ago I covered a piece on football violence, and drew attention to an incident in the Indonesian Football League when a player punched a referee.

However, more recently I read how a 17 year old player in Utah, United States of America killed a referee after being booked for a push on an opponent.

Ricardo Portillo then entered a coma and then sadly died a week later as a result of his injuries.

Violence in football, full-on brawls and the like I mean, are more associated with regions of the world where the countries are classified as “developing”, but the example I read about told how a referee had sadly died after being assaulted by the player.

Everywhere

The news from the Liga Continental de Futbol, an unofficial division in the States, shows how violence can happen anywhere in football.

It doesn’t have to be in the “developing” countries.

Even though that States isn’t usually a country I’d associate with a great footballing pedigree, it is from the USA, that the most common sense has come from when it comes to violence.

The irony is that it is not from a governing body in America that the comments have come from, they’ve come from the referee’s grieving daughter.

She revealed how her father had been attacked by players before, breaking ribs and legs from assaults by players.

While reading this story, I felt a strong sense of admiration for Portillo because his family had begged him to quit what he loved doing.

That is what football is all about. Doing it for the love of the game.

In my opinion, players these days are more concerned about the money rather than playing for a club, but this just shows how match officials also have an association with the game on a higher level than just officiating.

Referee Ricardo Portillo (centre) loved the beautiful game

Referee Ricardo Portillo (centre) loved the beautiful game

Sense

His daughter, Johana, has called for there to be better security and better self-control from the players themselves. Obviously, this wasn’t a professional game so there isn’t as much money to be pumped into security and counselling for players with anger issues, but maybe affiliations with the resources to do this should listen up?

There has been some progress in the professional game, with some players who do have anger issues being offered the help they need to control their anger, Luis Suarez’ name comes to my mind immediately.

But what about security in the professional game? We recently seen images of Millwall fans at Wembley, as well as Newcastle United fans in the town centre after a crushing defeat to Sunderland all in the last few weeks.

There is only so much that the police can do at football games, and when there is 200 fans at a game and only 20 police officers, what can they do?

I remember being at a Stirling Albion versus Rangers game a while ago, there must have been a few hundred Rangers fans in the stand opposing the Albion fans, and I counted about eight police officers. There was no real violence in the stands from what I remember, but there was a degree of sectarian singing.

I was in the Albion stand, and I remember thinking to myself, what do people expect the police to do to stop the singing?

Whether the answer is to find the funding to recruit more police officers at games, put stewards through some sort of course to restrain boisterous fans in the correct manner is perhaps a better option.

I remember being at a Charlton Athletic versus Barnsley game about six years ago. There was some gesturing between the Charlton fans around me and the people I was with, and the Barnsley fans. Within minutes of the abuse starting, police ejected several of the Barnsley fans from the ground.

More and more

Obviously, there should be banter between opposing fans, even if the staff and players can get involved too then it’s even better. But when things go too far and things turn racial, violent, sectarian and so on then the police or stadium security have every right to step in.

I’m not sure if it is up to the club(s) or if it should be the local police who take control, but one thing is for certain: if people are getting killed for doing what they love, then everyone needs to take a step back and rethink how much football means to them.

Incidents like this don’t help the game, they just destroy it.

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Blair Condie

I'm currently a student at Stirling University in Scotland, where I have just finished my third year for my degree in Sports and Journalism studies. I have an interest in a number of sports, including football, golf, tennis, rugby and American football.

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