French footballer gets suspended prison term for attacking referee

Arras: A French amateur footballer who reacted to being sent off by assaulting the referee was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence on Monday.

A court in the northern town of Arras heard that Francky Joly, 34, exploded after receiving a second yellow card for repeatedly contesting the official`s decisions during a match for his club, Etoile de Vendin-le-Vieil in April.

The 33-year-old referee was felled by a punch to the face then kicked twice, once in the back of the neck.

Joly has already been banned from all French football stadiums for 20 years by the sport`s governing body in France.

The referee, who missed four days of work due to the injuries he suffered and then had two months off with depression linked to the incident, has given up officiating at matches.

His lawyer told the court that he could no longer watch a football match without bursting into tears.

The judge in the case said: "It should serve as a reminder to all players that football is no more than a game and that they are not immune from criminal proceedings."

Amateur football leagues across Europe are struggling to find referees because of the abuse and threatening behaviour they frequently have to endure.

The issue made headlines around the world last year when volunteer linesman Richard Nieuwenhuizen died after being beaten up in the Netherlands by a group of teenage footballers and the father of one of them. They were convicted of manslaughter earlier this year.