A local soccer player says a brutal attack on a referee is 'disgusting' and believes officials deserve better protection.
The referee suffered a concussion after being punched in the jaw and kicked twice while unconscious on the ground during a men's soccer game Thursday night.
The 56-year-old ref was attacked with about five minutes remaining in the Manitoba Major Soccer League (MMSL) fifth division game between Winnipeg Croatia and Galatasaray United.
A 28-year-old man, who plays for Winnipeg Croatia, was arrested and charged after the incident at the Vince Leah Recreation Centre on Salter Street.
"I was told he suffered a concussion and I've been told he's fine otherwise and in good spirits," said Xxavier Barra, who plays for Galatasaray United.
"A message has to be sent that this can't happen. We need to stop this. The penalty has to be harsh. The soccer community really needs to crack down on that. If one person can do it, then refs don't want to ref anymore."
Witnesses say a member of Winnipeg Croatia, upset at being given a yellow card by the referee, argued the call on the field and taunted the referee to give him another yellow card. When the referee reached into his pocket to pull out another card, the player attacked the referee on the field.
Barra, who was on the field about a metre away when the incident took place, said he's never seen anything like it in his 18 years playing various sports.
"It was utter disbelief," said Barra, 21. "It was the most disgusting thing I've witnessed in my life, not even just in sports, in life in general. Physically attacking someone when they're defenceless."
He said the player kicked the referee once in the back and once in the stomach during the attack before players from both sides intervened.
"I locked eyes with the player that committed the physical assault and he looked at me and said, 'What are you going to do about it?' Luckily right after that, their player ripped him right off the ref and we could tend to the referee."
An ambulance took the referee to hospital for treatment.
In soccer, a yellow card is a caution but a player who is shown a second yellow card in the same game is shown a red card and sent off immediately. Red cards carry an automatic ejection from the game.
Barra said an off-duty Winnipeg police officer involved in another game nearby came over to detain the player, who had tried to flee. Winnipeg police said another police unit later arrived and arrested the man.
Police spokesman Cst. Jason Michalyshen said a 28-year-old man faces a charge of assault causing bodily harm and was released on a promise to appear.
It is expected the MMSL and the Manitoba Soccer Association will also take action.
"The game was fairly chippy, yellow cards, about six or seven were given between both teams. You could feel the game was escalating," Barra said. "The whole game, their team, not just the players but the coaches and supporters, were heckling the ref. He was doing the best job he could, keeping it under control."
Barra said there was an earlier problem when a linesman, supplied by the Croatian team, argued a call with the referee on the field. The referee banished the linesman from the field, causing an uproar. At that level of soccer, there is an MSA referee but a linesman is supplied by each team.
"We're playing amateur sport. That ref is probably doing this because he loves the game. Because he's there, that gives us the ability to play the game," Barra said. "Why put him in harm's way? Why attack him?"
He said he has watched a video of the incident captured by a spectator that may be in police possession.
It was just the fourth game of the 2014 MMSL season.
The MMSL has nine men's divisions from Premier down to eighth division and one co-ed division.
Officials with the MSA, the MMSL and the Manitoba Soccer Referees Association did not respond to multiple requests for comments.