Bethel Nwanesi, the centre referee in charge of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game between Remo Stars and Bendel Insurance at the Sagamu International Stadium was violently assaulted by fans suspected to be supporters of Remo Stars after the match which ended in a one all draw on Sunday.
Pictures on social media showed the referee with a gaping head wound and bloodied clothing in the aftermath of the attack.
This latest fan orchestrated violence against match officials comes on the heels of a similar incident in the game between Plateau United and FC Ifeanyi Ubah on the opening day of the season and must be worrying for the League Management Company (LMC) who appear powerless to curb this evil that has long bedeviled the league.
Nwanesi had reportedly made a number of calls throughout the match which home fans interpreted to be evidence of his bias against them. Remo had gone behind to a Charles Omokaro effort in the 54th minute and fans hoping to see their team win at home in their first game after gaining promotion started getting restive.
The already restive atmosphere was further fouled when Nwanesi turned down a penalty claim after Remo Stars striker Victor Mbaoma went down in the box.
Although Mbaoma equalized in the 76th minute, a number of home fans had to be physically restrained from invading the game when Nwanesi ruled out a Remo goal late in the second half after the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
That appeared to be the tipping point for a number of fans who were clearly spoiling for a chance to attack the referee and at the blast of the final whistle they descended in their droves with Nwanesi and his assistants pelted with all manner of projectiles as security agents struggled to shield them from the worst of the attacks as they made their way to the dressing rooms.
It now appears that the presence of security personnel wasn’t sufficient protection for the match officials as the pictures released on social media show.
Speaking at the end of the match, Remo Stars proprietor Kunle Soname appeared to place the blame for fan restiveness firmly at the feet of Nwanesi who he claimed was incompetent and biased against his side.
“It was a hard fought game but the referee was completely incompetent and this was the worst I’ve seen in the history of Nigerian football. This is the very worst. This is a referee that doesn’t even look at his ARs (Assistant Referees) for anything.
“There’s nothing less than five instances the AR will raise up his flags he does not even look at them at all. The second goal (that was disallowed) this guy must come and tell me why that second goal is not a goal,” said Soname to the media.
The Nigeria Referee Association are yet to issue a statement on the incident at the time of writing with sources at the NRA telling busybuddiesng.com that an official statement will be issued on Monday after the report of the referee assessor at the game has been studied.
Match day violence against match officials are a recurring decimal in the NPFL but it appears the abridged league format for the 2018/2019 season – with eight teams set to be relegated from two groups – has exacerbated a shameful problem.
With fans always demanding a home win at all costs and owners like Mr Soname turning a blind eye to fan bad behaviour, the LMC has its work cut out if this is to be nipped in the bud once and for all.