Refereeing big soccer matches does not mean you won't get attacked, but it does give a certain amount of security. Refs in the lowers leagues have no such luxury. One regional division has become particularly lawless.
Being the main official at a soccer match these days is a lot more dangerous than it used to be. However, it isn't just in high-profile games that the referees find themselves under threat. The lower down the leagues you go, the worse it can be.
The case of an assistant referee floored by a beer cup at a recent German Cup game between Hertha Berlin and Stuttgarter Kickers caused controversy this week. The game was abandoned -- later to be awarded in favor of Berlin who were winning 2-0 at the time -- and the supporter responsible for the offense is now facing jail time after it was revealed that he had had brushes with the law in his past.
Things have gotten so bad in one region of Germany that this Sunday all games in the Siegen-Wittgenstein area have been called off because of increasing brutality in the local league.
Jürgen Böcking, the chairperson of the region's associations, cancelled 70 games this weekend. "I have called off the whole match day," Böcking told the Frankfürter Allgemeine Zeitung on Friday.
Violence on the increase
"The violence is constantly increasing in the lower leagues," complained Böcking, adding that his region is not an isolated case. "I hear this from other areas too. The fact is violence on the pitch and sidelines in getting worse."
Siegen-Wittgenstein is achieving a notoriety the local soccer association desperately wants to lose. In July, an incident in which a referee was knocked down during a game and kicked in the stomach and genital area made headlines across Germany. The player involved got a 10-month ban.
Meanwhile, a female referee was so offended by the abuse she received during a game in August that she has hung her whistle up for good.
"I'm finished with it," Marina Schneider said. "Players and drunken spectators insulted me, and I was also not taken seriously by the coaches."
Black September for Siegen-Wittgenstein
Things reached tipping-point in September when a referee found a death threat in his changing room, informing him of the consequences of not allowing the home side to win.
In other instances that month, a ref had to lock himself in his changing room to save himself from a mob of youth players; another was attacked by players on the field; and, in a separate game, one ref was taken to the hospital after being stabbed in the stomach by the linesman's flag -- brandished by the linesman himself.
The situation in Siegen-Wittgenstein is so bad now that Jürgen Böcking struggles to find any officials to run any of the games.
"It has gone so far that I can no longer find referees for the worst teams," he said.
One radical suggestion being considered is to play games involving the worst teams with no referee, but this has faced stiff opposition for the other teams in the local league.
Böcking said he adamant that this will not happen, adding, "I would sooner abandon the whole season."
Siegen-Wittgenstein's Sunday league is set to resume next week as normal. The referees must be quaking in their boots already.