SUPER League referee Robert Hicks has relived the moment he came face to face with a rugby fan who made a death threat against him.
The 37-year-old, who was raised at Scouthead, has been widely praised for his response after agreeing to meet the Warrington supporter responsible.
“It was strange but I came out of the meeting feeling sorry for him as he has received abuse and come off social media,” he explained.
The meeting came about following an investigation into the incident by police and the Warrington club.
Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick had called in the fan to issue a ban.
Robert said: “The man was upset and Karl is innovative and likes to tackle things in a different way.
“He asked whether I would be prepared to meet him which I thought would help promote the Rugby League ‘Enjoy The Game’ which followed on from the ‘Respect’ campaign.
“It was an opportunity to reinforce the message and raise the issue about social media abuse.”
Robert added it was not easy confronting the man who had caused distress to his family but thought that approach would be positive.
He continued: “Having discussed the matter with Karl and also the police, we thought we could make a more effective point by meeting face to face with the individual concerned.
“Although it was a difficult experience for all of us, I think we all left the room thinking it had been a worthwhile exercise.
“The fan was very nervous and disappointed in himself and was apologetic while, strangely, I was in control of the situation.
“We had a coffee and I explained the problems it caused. It was not as bad for me as I was in control of myself but I have a young family to worry about and it caused disruption to a number of people.
“Hopefully some good comes out of it. It’s time for a line in the sand.”
Robert revealed the threat was made during the Hull KR v Warrington match in May.
He said: “The threat was made on Twitter during the match so I didn’t know anything about it.
“It went viral to RL audiences and my partner Amy was alerted by a friend who had seen it on Facebook.
“She rang me after the game worried and we didn’t know if the guy who had made the threat was still at the ground.
“Both clubs were brilliant in the way they handled the matter, but it was a traumatic day.”
Robert, who has been refereeing for 23 years, described the incident as underlined the “dark side of social media”.
He said: “As a referee I have received vile abuse on social media and steer clear of it after a game.
“I think all referees have received horrible messages but it is very rare to have something as serious as this.
“It shows the dark side of social media which is a horrible place.
“it is not just sport but a society problem when somebody can sit at a computer and send violent vitriol.”