A SOUTHAMPTON referee assaulted during a youth match has pledged: I won't let the louts win!

Simon Johnson, pictured above, abandoned a match between Romsey and Brockenhurst earlier this month after becoming one of SIXTEEN referees assaulted on parks pitches across Hampshire this season.

Johnson's match was also one of EIGHTEEN abandoned for a variety of indiscipline offences in the first few months of the 2003/04 local league season.

The taxi driver, though, is refusing to bow to the "louts" and "thugs" that the Hampshire FA exclusively told the Daily Echo last week are spoiling the grass-roots game for thousands.

"My first thought as I sat in the changing room afterwards was 'when's my next game, I want to referee as soon as possible because I enjoy it so much'," explained Johnson, 39.

"One assault is too many, let alone 16. That number is disheartening. But it's a reflection on society today - I'd love to know how many teachers are assaulted by pupils.

"The law has gone soft, both in schools and on the streets. When I was at school I got the cane a few times, but I knew I was out of order when I got it.

"That doesn't happen these days. People don't want to know if they're out of order.

Recalling his recent youth experience, Johnson added: "I had two teenage linesmen with me that day and I was keen to ensure they weren't put off by the experience.

"I made a point of asking them not to worry about me, but how were they?

"Really it was only my pride that was hurt, but even if I had been in real pain I would have made sure they didn't know that.

"They were only the same age as some of the players in the match and I thought they could have been in trouble too.

"I'm okay, I've been refereeing since 1986, I've reffed some of the ugliest and hardest men in Southampton and I've never had a problem - it's the youngsters who could be put off by seeing what they saw. It could have been the final nail in their coffin.

"Don't worry about me, I went to Shirley Warren School when it was the hardest school in Southampton. I can take a few knocks."

Johnson added: ""Never mind a youth game, you don't go out refereeing ANY game expecting to be assaulted. If you had that attitude you wouldn't do it.

"It's not always like that. Sometimes you can have a good laugh with the players.

"I did a game between Mottisfont and Botley Village just a few days after the assault, I was having a laugh with one of the players who's been around a while - 'you're past it, red, 'you're past it, too' - that sort of thing - and at the end he was the first one to shake my hand.

"That's the way it should be.

"It's a society problem - I know refs who are school teachers and policemen and they must get it all the time in their jobs.

"From my experience, it does seem to be the 16-18 year age range where you can have most difficulty."