Watch: Referee knocked unconscious by goalkeeper speaks about 'vicious attack'
PUBLISHED: 07:16 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:12 25 June 2019
A Norfolk referee who was knocked unconscious in a "vicious attack" by a goalkeeper says he is still in pain nine months on.
Karl Smith was left with two fractures to his cheek bone after being punched by Horsford United goalkeeper Aaron Wick on September 22, 2018.
The 45-year-old's injuries were so severe that surgeons had to replace his cheek bone with a metal plate - and it could still be another nine months before he fully recovers.
Despite this, the father-of-two from Wymondham returned to the pitch 10 weeks after the attack and continues to referee games.
He has now bravely spoken out about the incident following Wick's sentencing at Norwich Crown Court on Thursday, June 20.
Wick, 36, of Staithe Street, Wells-next-the-Sea, was jailed for 20 months.
Mr Smith, who has been a referee for four seasons, was attacked moments after awarding a "clear cut" penalty to Feltwell during the Anglian Combination 4th Division match.
He said: "As the Feltwell players were moving back up the pitch to restart the game, Aaron started effing and jeffing.
"I was writing the score down and putting another line against him [Wick], as I had already booked him earlier for dissent towards me.
"The next thing I remember, I was waking up with a policeman kneeling down over me."
Although Mr Smith did not recall the attack, other players described seeing Wick remove his gloves and punch the referee with his right hand to the side of his face.
During Wick's sentencing, the court was told how he had shown "animosity" to Mr Smith before the game had even started and repeatedly questioned his decisions.
Mr Smith said the attack happened on the day of his son's 15th birthday and his family was due to go to the cinema that evening.
He said his daughter, who was 10 at the time, did not recognise him when she saw him the day after the incident.
"She didn't recognise me as her daddy," Mr Smith said. "She drew a picture and it was of me as I was before this. It cut, it really hurt."
"My son says now: 'Well, hopefully I'll have a better 16th birthday than I did on my 15th'.
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"How do you answer that? It's not something you want your son to remember every birthday.
"When I go over what happened, it makes me upset. My family gets upset with it. Talking about it now still affects me."
Despite the severity of the attack, Mr Smith was determined to get back on the pitch.
And 10 weeks later he returned to football, initially as a linesman.
He returned to refereeing on the first weekend after the New Year and continued for the rest of the season.
"I was stubborn," Mr Smith said. "I just didn't want to let an idiot win. I set some goals [for myself] and focused on them rather than mope."
Speaking about the conditions referees face in Norfolk, he said: "You get your good games and your bad games.
"When you have a bit of banter and a bit of a laugh, it's really nice.
"But you do get times where it feels like you have a target on your back."
Gavin Lemmon, chief executive of Norfolk FA, praised Mr Smith's courage in returning to refereeing.
He said Mr Smith has been named 'match official of the year' and has been promoted to a level five referee.
Wick, who has 12 previous convictions for 14 offences, including some for violence, previously admitted an offence of inflicting grievous bodily harm.
He has been banned from the game for life by the FA following the incident.
Sentencing Wick, who has also competed as a wrestler, to 20 months in prison, Judge Stephen Holt described it as a "vicious attack" on the victim who was refereeing a football match.
He said Wick was an "appalling role model for children, for anyone, to watch this sort of vicious behaviour towards a match referee".
Judge Holt said nothing other than an immediate custodial sentence was possible, adding: "People must understand if they attack referees causing serious injury then prison is inevitable."
Speaking about the sentencing, Mr Smith said: "If he only does 10 months, which is what I've been told it could be, I think that's not great. I've had nine months of being and pain and potentially 18 months before it's all put right."