Fun game turns nasty
An ugly brawl in a social football league has thrown the issue of violence on the sports field into the spotlight.
Organisers of the Football Fix competition have had to remove a team that turned on an opposition player and attacked him.
Witnesses reported the team of seven and its supporters chased and then punched and kicked the player as he lay on the ground.
The banned team was also violent towards people who rushed in to stop the fight.
The brawl happened at one of Football Fix's Tuesday night fixtures at St Peter's College in Newmarket.
In an email sent to players, directors Marc Prenty and Graeme Wallace described it as an unfortunate and unacceptable incident.
Players have been reminded they should not take the law into their own hands.
"Football Fix is all about a weekly, convenient, fun and well-managed game of social football.
"We acknowledge that all players are inherently competitive, possibly stressed and concede that certainly our referees will make mistakes," the email says.
But they accept no excuse for fighting or off-the-ball violence.
"It's a really nasty issue," Mr Prenty told the East & Bays Courier.
"We try and come down hard on people that come to our competition to get their aggression out."
Veteran Auckland referee Stephanie Brown says some players find it difficult to distinguish between hard but fair play and outright violence.
Miss Brown has been officiating social and club football for 25 years.
"I have had some really dreadful experiences as a ref. On one occasion I thought I was going to be a victim of an assault. I was lucky the opposition stepped in. I really did fear for my safety."
Miss Brown says aggression can sometimes come into a match if a referee does not take a strong stance from the beginning.
"Having somebody with a whistle who's prepared to step in and say ‘that's enough' is really important."
These days she referees for the Sub-football competition which is based on the premise that players can't use force to take or keep the ball.
She says there is a noticeable difference to players' attitudes compared with other social leagues.
Bill Davies started Sub-football as an answer to unnecessary violence on the field.
He developed 14 laws to govern the game and registered its trademark in 1998.
"I created it because of the violence that was so evident in social football. There was guys turning up there punching and kicking one another so I said ‘this has got to stop'," he says.
East And Bays Courier