English referee Michael Oliver has been offered police support after being abused by social media trolls following his Champions League penalty controversy.
Oliver and his wife Lucy were targeted in the aftermath of last week’s quarter-final second leg clash between Real Madrid and Juventus.
Juventus were winning 3-0 after losing the first leg by the same score, but their hopes of a famous victory were spoiled when Oliver awarded a stoppage-time penalty to Madrid.
Juventus complained bitterly that Oliver had got it wrong and their goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was sent off for barging into the referee during their furious protests.
Buffon later said the 33-year-old Oliver had a “bag of rubbish for a heart”.
Cristiano Ronaldo converted the penalty to eliminate Juventus and in the following days Oliver and his family were subjected to sickening taunts online.
His wife’s mobile phone number was posted on social media and she received abusive text messages.
A Northumbria Police spokesperson said:
“We are aware of threatening messages being posted on social media.
“This type of behaviour is completely unacceptable and those writing the messages need to be aware that they could be committing a criminal offence.
“Neighbourhood officers are in touch with the victims in this case to offer them support and ensure any further offences are reported to police.”
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) condemned the abusive messages aimed at the pair, while Twitter confirmed that it had removed a series of tweets from its platform over the weekend.
Oliver was fourth official at Saturday’s Premier League match between Huddersfield and Watford.
Buffon, meanwhile, has outright refused to apoligise for his words, and at the weekend suggested that he would do it all again if he was in the same situation – and suggested that Oliver’s age and relative inexperience allowed were a factor in the ref becoming overawed by the occasion:
“The beauty, the imponderable nature of football, means that unfortunately this young man found himself in a situation that was too complex, too garbled and too big for him to deal with.
“You find a way to speak, right or wrong, that at time can seem excessive, but this is me, I am Gigi Buffon.
“The other night the game had finished an hour and a half ago, so consequently what one expresses at that moment are sentiments and thoughts that are strong, in certain respect raw, but the sentiments of a man who won’t hide behind a veil of hypocrisy and instead throws out what is bubbling in his guts. End of story.”
© Agence France-Presse (with additional edits from Simon O’Keeffe)