A referee's life will be lost if harsher punishments are not introduced for the abuse of officials, says Referees' Association chair Paul Field, after Mike Dean received death threats.
Dean will not referee a game in the Premier League this weekend after his request to stand down was granted.
The 52-year-old and his family received death threats on social media after Dean had been involved in two controversial incidents last week.
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The abuse followed two controversial red card decisions - against West Ham's Tomas Soucek and Southampton's Jan Bednarek - which were subsequently overturned following appeal.
Field says the warning signs are there and is concerned that if the abuse continues without any action taken against the perpetrators, it could severely impact the mental health of referees.
"Mike Dean's a victim. He has to look after his family and his own emotional welfare", said Field. "It is totally unacceptable and one day in this country, a referee will be killed.
"I have warned the authorities about this, I have warned the government that this is coming - one day, we will be having a conversation when a match official has lost their life.
Whatever decisions are made on the pitch should stay on the pitch. 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 https://t.co/Tcofvo8a9X— Tomáš Souček (@tomassoucek28) February 8, 2021
"Football is a reflection of society. We can't cure all the ills of society through football and education, but I think if the deterrents were made significantly stronger, then people would stop and think.
"It's that stop and pause process before you act."
'I know what Mike is going through'
Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey has told Sky Sports News he also suffered death threats during his career and revealed how it adversely impacted on his and his family's mental health.
"I know exactly what Mike and his family are going through and my heart goes out to them," said Halsey.
"He is a very experienced referee and a very good referee with over 500 games and he's just doing the job to the best of his ability, just like everybody else does.
"It came to a point where I thought, 'do me and my family really need this? Is it time to just pack this in?' Life is more important. It really affected me, it really got to me. It hurt my wife. She was crying almost continuously at home.
"I had to take screenshots of what was sent to us to give on to Greater Manchester Police to deal with the matter. The first wave of abuse I got, with people sending me death threats, the police dealt with and a couple of people faced the police and got sorted.
"Sometimes you go out, and you look over your shoulder, and you think, 'everybody knows what's happened to you'. And it really does affect you mentally, and it just makes you wonder what's going to happen next."
How the managers reacted
Jose Mourinho, Tottenham head coach:
"I feel sorry for Mike Dean and I feel sorry for Axel Tuanzebe. I feel sorry for every Mike Dean and Tuanzebe in the world," he said.
"This week it was for them, the week before it was for others and if the situation goes in the same direction next week, it will be to others.
"I think something has to be done because one thing is having a professional life, what we do in our professional lives, the success we have, the mistakes we make, and the frustrations we make.
"Another thing is for the fans to step too far and go to the private life and the social life and of course something has to be done about that."
Carlo Ancelotti, Everton manager:
"I think it is really sad and unacceptable," he said.
"I think Mike Dean is one of the best referees in the Premier League. I'm really sorry for him and I think the police has to investigate and take care of this because it is totally unacceptable."
Chris Wilder, Sheffield United manager:
"Mike Dean is an honourable referee and a decent guy, and these guys are doing their best, as the players and coaches are," he said.
"They don't deserve it. It's disgusting, the individuals need nailing and I wish I could nail them in my way, but I won't be allowed to.
"We've all been subjected to the abuse and I think it's cowardly, disgusting, and inhumane. We've all suffered and shouldn't have to. It isn't football, and it isn't life. No-one should be able to get away with it."
Graham Potter, Brighton manager:
"It's a reflection of the world we are in, sadly," he said, "in that it is not the kindest place sometimes and it's incredibly unfair.
"I think referees are doing their job, players are doing their job, coaches are doing their job, but unfortunately there is a platform where people can convey their hatred and their views, so I think that has to be policed.
"But the bigger problem is that they think it is OK to say that.
"I feel for Mike because, as I've said before, referees can get things wrong but they aren't doing it on purpose. It's part of football, mistakes happen, and he certainly shouldn't be abused for making those."
Neil Lennon, Celtic manager:
"I just think it's appalling, absolutely appalling," he said. "These are the days we live in. I'm sick of it, I'm fed up with it. I'm fed up with the racist abuse the players are suffering with, or anyone in any walk of life. It's just disgusting.
"I hope for Mike that he has his family around him and the Referees' Association as well as all the support from the managers and players in the game. He's an excellent referee, he has been for a long, long time.
"I've seen it a lot, these social media platforms are not doing enough to stop this, there is no accountability and people can basically say what they want.
"It's against the law and people don't know the damage they are doing to these individuals that are out there trying to entertain and make the game better and obviously referee the game the best way possible."
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