Published: 06:00, 17 September 2021
A young football referee from Kent has revealed how he was spat at and punched after a game when he was only 16.
Josh Williams, now 18, was recently presented with Kent FA's Colin Boswell young referee of the year award. He has spoken out about his experience after the shocking levels of abuse towards officials in the county over a single weekend were revealed.
Williams, from Ashford, was taking charge of only his fourth adult game when he was left questioning his desire to continue.
In what was an adult Sunday League pre-season friendly, he was verbally abused and then spat at when he sent the perpetrator off. He was physically assaulted after the game by the player's friend and ended up in an ambulance, having momentarily lost his vision and hearing.
He's bounced back from the incident, but was glad to see the Kent FA's refereeing development officer Nick Dunn write an open letter this week highlighting the regular abuse officials are receiving.
Williams, speaking this week to kmfm, he said: "Nick Dunn's letter is powerful, it spreads very quickly and it is an important message.
"I think there were seven or eight cases of verbal abuse or physical violence, just this weekend, it is astonishing, we shouldn't be seeing that in a country over a year, but as a county, over a weekend, we are not in the right place there."
Commenting about his own early experience of physical abuse, he said: "I was assaulted, punched in the face and spat at aged 16, which was a setback, but luckily I had the support around me that really helped me to get back into it again.
"There was nothing at stake in the game, it was a pre-season friendly, but it was one of my first games. I was 16 and just getting into the game.
"I thought I had managed it well enough but I had one player who gave me some verbal abuse, I sent him off for it and in retaliation he spat at me. One of his friends, after the game, then attempted to take the match record off me, which had the player's name on it and punched me in the face, leaving me lying on the ground and drove off.
"I was in an ambulance thinking, 'wow, is this really where I want to go, what I want to do?'
"Fortunately Nick, all my mates and lots of other referees messaged me, from all over the place, across Europe and thankfully I got back to it the next weekend and never looked back."
Williams' experience is clearly not unique. Mr Dunn's open letter this week told of an experienced official who was also physically assaulted at the weekend. Others had packed it in because of abuse.
But there are plenty of positives for Josh, a young referee who is making rapid progress. He has been promoted from level seven (the starting level) to five and is currently working toward level four.
"It would be amazing to make it to the top," he said. "That is a massive challenge, it takes years of devotion, commitment and hard work.
"I had got to the stage where I didn't want to play anymore, but I wanted to stay involved and this was the perfect way. It has helped me grow as a person.
"I am level five, looking for four and there is a fitness test, laws of the game test, I need between eight and 10 observations (from an assessor) where I need a higher than average mark and once you get to level four the going gets tougher. It takes a lot of hard work and ambition to get to the next level, let along the Premier League!"
Josh is clearly on the right path and he was honoured with his recent award, named after Colin Boswell, the former Kent FA president who was a referee himself and always keen to help aspiring young officials.
"It was a privilege to win it," Williams said.
"To have that title is a huge complement and it was hugely appreciated. The main thing for me was that I received the award from Colin Boswell's wife and one of his sons. That meant a lot to them and to me too.
"There are challenging parts (to being a referee) and then it is rewarding, it is a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure on young shoulders, you make mistakes, but you learn from them and you become a better referee for it."