Fury after referee attacker spared jail

By Jonathan BarnesFOOTBALL bosses expressed anger last night after a player who kicked a referee in the stomach after being sent off in an ill-tempered match was spared jail.

By Jonathan Barnes

FOOTBALL bosses expressed anger last night after a player who kicked a referee in the stomach after being sent off in an ill-tempered match was spared jail.

Semi-professional player Andrew Coote, 21, was ordered to pay referee Christopher Dale, who was hospitalised for two days after the attack, compensation of £800.

Magistrates in Ipswich also gave Coote, of Radcliffe Drive, Ipswich, a combination order of 100 hours' community punishment and a course to control his anger.

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Bench chairman David Coe said he had come “mighty close” to being sent to prison.

“You can't go around thumping referees - they do their best and if you don't like it you suffer it. You went a step too far,” he told Coote.

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The striker has also been banned for life by the Football Association for the attack, which happened as he played for his pub team in a Sunday morning match.

Mr Dale said he was not vindictive and did not want Coote sent to prison, although he added referees should be owed “a duty of care” to be protected from “idiots”.

But the Ipswich & District Referees Society said the player had “got off lightly” and should have been jailed.

Recruitment and training officer George Whight said: “I was anticipating that he was going to jail - a custodial sentence should have been the only thing for something like that. I think he got off lightly.”

Barry Felgate, referee and competition secretary at the Suffolk FA, added the sentence “sent out the wrong message”.

The court heard yesterday Coote was playing for the Belstead Arms against St Clements in the Select Technical Services Sunday League on April 6 at the King George V Playing Field in Ipswich.

Margaret Cutts, prosecuting, said it had been an “ill-tempered” match and Mr Dale had sent off Coote for foul play.

She added Coote had started to leave the pitch, but turned to see his brother Craig, who was also playing for the team, remonstrating with Mr Dale.

The dismissed player “momentarily lost his temper” and kicked the official in the stomach. Mr Dale suffered severe internal bruising and spent two days in Ipswich Hospital, she said.

Claire Hullock, mitigating, said Coote “bitterly regretted” the incident and had expressed his remorse straight away.

She added he had immediately gone to Ipswich Police Station to admit the attack and even penned a letter of apology to Mr Dale - “a man he has a great deal of respect for”.

The self-employed roofer, who had a spell in the Army, had been booked earlier in the match for an argument with his own defender and “accepted the decision” when the referee ordered him off.

Ms Hullock said Coote had gone back “with the intention of telling his brother to leave it”, but lost his temper momentarily.

She added being banned for life from football had “hit him hard”. The former Stoke High School pupil has been a star striker for Jewson League sides Ipswich Wanderers and Woodbridge Town.

Speaking after the case, Mr Dale vowed not to let the Coote's actions stop him from refereeing.

Mr Dale, 46, of Elmcroft Road, Ipswich, said he had not particularly wanted to see Coote go to jail, but added referees should be owed “a duty of care” to be protected from such “idiots”.

“I'm not a particularly vindictive person, so I don't want to say he should have gone to jail,” said Mr Dale, a house husband.

“I just hope the sentence, the comments and the actions of the county FA send out a strong message that his sort of behaviour is not acceptable.”

Mr Dale, who has been refereeing for seven years, hoped the football community might “take something positive” out of the incident.

“The leagues and the FA should look at people who have poor disciplinary records and make match officials aware of the idiots who are out there so we don't have to referee them,” he said.

“We go into matches blind and we don't know what we have to face. These sort of players should not be involved in the game.”

The part-time official, whose sons James, 18, and AJ, 14, both referee, said he had taken up the whistle at a few junior games since the attack.

“I don't want the actions of two people to spoil my hobby. If I give up, there will be 150 games a year short of an official. If it snowballs, where will we be?” he added.

“But somebody somewhere owes us a duty of care to weed these people out. If not, there are people's livelihoods at stake.”

Belstead Arms have been thrown out of the league and Craig Coote has also been suspended sine die by the Suffolk FA.


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