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Hostile players, irate fans and decisions that haunt you: who’d be a football ref?

From the horror of making a mistake to the teams that came armed with knives, football’s unsung heroes share their stories

It is a wet Saturday morning in September, the kind when the prickling heat of August feels a distant memory. In Regent’s Park in London, a man in a black shirt, shorts and socks jogs over to a group of parents watching their 14-year-olds warm up in the drizzle. He’s clutching two small flags, each in fluorescent yellow and orange. “I need two linesmen,” he says. Technically, he should say “assistant referees”, but we all know what he means.

I step forward. A few days earlier, I had met one of Britain’s leading assistant referees – whose decisions have seen him jeered from the stands and mocked in the House of Commons. This might give me an inkling of what his job entails.

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