Death threats directed at Mike Dean show it is essential to better protect referees, Liverpool County FA Mental Health Champion Gordon Johnson says.

Wirral-born referee Dean notified police after receiving threatening messages in the wake of his controversial decision to send off West Ham’s Tomas Soucek in their draw against Fulham.

He subsequently asked to be withdrawn from officiating duties for this weekend’s Premier League fixtures.

At the beginning of February, the FA notably launched a Mental Health Scheme to establish a stronger support network around grassroots referees.

The LCFA is one of 11 county FAs involved in the pilot.

Johnson, who has been involved in grassroots refereeing for 31 years, is the scheme’s volunteer champion.

“There are over 28,000 registered referees in England and each year several thousand are recruited and trained but similar numbers also decide to quit refereeing for a variety of reasons,” he told MerseySportLive.

“Some of those chose to quit due to having a mental health problem which means they are unable to commit to refereeing.

“The unsavoury threats recently made to Mike Dean have highlighted the need for such a scheme for our 28,000, mainly grassroots, referees.”

The FA claims that the scheme is the first of its kind for grassroots match officials in any sport.

When it was put to him that it was ‘damning’ that it had taken this long for such an initiative to materialise, Johnson disagreed.

“The fact that the FA, through National Referee Manager Richard Glynne-Jones, have now established this scheme should be applauded,” he said.

“Yes, it is the first of its kind for referees but it has taken a recognition of the fact that mental health was previously judged with a somewhat negative stigma.

“In fact it should be talked about more openly, encouraging referees through this support network to continue with their officiating, which in itself can positively impact on an individual’s mental health through the physical exercise it brings with it.”

The FA intends to extend the scheme nationally if the pilot proves to be a success.

The Cheshire and Lancashire county FAs are also involved in the trial stages.

(Main image by Brian Minkoff, London Pixels – Creative Commons Licence)