The Westminster Chaplain for Sport has hit out at social media trolls after football referee Mike Dean decided not to officiate any Premier League games this weekend following online abuse and death threats.
Dean, 52, received criticism from fans, players and pundits following two controversial red cards he gave in recent games, however, this turned sinister with online trolls aiming death threats at the official and sending abusive messages to him and his family members.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann condemned those behind the hate-filled social media messages, likening them to radicalised fundamentalists. He warned that if officials became too intimidated to send players off it could result in an increase in reckless play and serious injuries.
“With the best will in the world, we all make mistakes,” he told The Catholic Universe.
“To threaten any referee – and act like a radicalised fundamentalist – is to have misinterpreted Bill Shankley’s famous quote, ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that’.
“If refs were to become scared of giving red cards, more players would suffer many more serious injuries.”
Mgr Felzmann praised West Ham midfielder Tomáš Souček for “doing the right thing” in supporting Dean and speaking out against the abuse the official received after sending him off in his side’s goalless draw with Fulham.
“Whatever decisions are made on the pitch should stay on the pitch,” said Souček. “I don’t like hearing about it interfering with personal life and I send Mike Dean and his family my support.
“There is no place for abuse of any kind. It is in the past and I’m now focused on the rest of the season.”
The incident occurred just four days after Dean sent off Southampton defender Jan Bednarek in the team’s 9-0 defeat to Manchester United.
Both red card decisions were overturned on appeal.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters called the abuse and death threats directed at Dean and his family “inexcusable”.
Merseyside Police confirmed officers are investigating “allegations of malicious communications”.
Picture: Mike Dean shows Tomáš Souček red during West Ham’s 0-0 draw with Fulham.