Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Soccer: Punch a painful end to years as a ref

Len Gattsche's jaw was broken on both sides and in three places when he was hit while refereeing soccer. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Len Gattsche's jaw was broken on both sides and in three places when he was hit while refereeing soccer. Photo / Steven McNicholl

For eight years, Len Gattsche took to the soccer field to referee games around Auckland.

But one punch destroyed that - and his ability to eat solids.

Mr Gattsche's jaw was broken when he was attacked on Anzac Day as he refereed a division-two match between Manukau City and Tauranga City at Massey Park, Mangere.

In the 79th minute, he gave Manukau player Tama Fasavalu - a former Samoan international - a second yellow card for heavy tackling.

A second yellow card automatically becomes a red card, meaning Fasavalu was sent off for the rest of the match.

Mr Gattsche spoke to the Weekend Herald about the seconds that followed. "I didn't see the hit. I felt it though," he said.

"After I sent him off, he let me know what he thought about the decision.

He was quite verbal and had an attitude. He was quite aggro.

"I thought I saw players holding him back and then push him off the field. I thought he'd gone so I looked down at my watch and started to write the time down on my card for later on. Then, next thing - bang. I didn't see it coming."

Mr Gattsche said it wasn't overly painful to start with.

"It didn't feel hard. My initial reaction was 's***, he's hit me'. It split the skin outside and just bled and bled. Initially I didn't think it was broken, there wasn't a great deal of pain."

Mr Gattsche needed more than two hours of surgery to repair his jaw - which was broken on both sides and in three places.

He still has steel bands on his top and bottom jaw, but said he it was feeling better.

"I don't need any more surgery. But they reposition the bands in my mouth to pull my jaw back across."

He will have the bands attached for another month or so, which means he still cannot eat solid food. "I eat the same food the family eats, but it's pureed up. Steak is probably out for the next five months at least."

Mr Gattsche had been back to watch soccer matches since the attack, but he was not sure if he would take up the whistle and ref again.

"I think it's over with, really. Things just don't add up any more, so to speak.

"I still go down to the park and watch the games and my feet get itchy. I want to get out there and do it, but I'm not sure. The more I watch the more itchy my feet get. I might do two or three games and see how I get on."

He was not afraid of being set upon again, and said it was the first time he'd been physically assaulted on the playing field.

"You get told what you are by people, you always get that, it's part of reffing. You expect the odd push or something, but nothing that drastic. And a lot of the time it's spectators, not the guys on the field."

Mr Gattsche was pleased his wife and 9-year-old son were not there to see him get hit. They usually went along but did not that day. He said it would have been "awful" for them.

Fasavalu, who played three games for Samoa and scored two goals in a World Cup qualifying match in 2004, is facing a charge of wounding with intent to injure and reappeared in court this week.

After a hearing, the judicial panel of the Auckland Football Federation imposed an indefinite suspension from all involvement in the game on Fasavalu and fined him $1000.

The suspension can be lifted only by application to New Zealand Football after a minimum of 12 months.

He will reappear in court next month.

- NZ Herald

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