Death threats to Halsey opened Taylor's eyes to referee's plight in the modern game
22:38 GMT, 1 November 2012
Steven Taylor had just finished sparring with Sunderland fans when he bumped into Mark Halsey at St James’ Park last Sunday.
It should have been an innocuous conversation with the fourth official before Newcastle’s clash with West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, a chance for a quick chat with a popular match official.
What happened next left the former England Under 21 defender wide-eyed as he was given an insight into the world of top-class refereeing.
Banter: Steven Taylor (right) has a glint in his eye as he shares a moment with Sunderland's Steven Fletcher
Taylor said: ‘Mark asked me what the reaction of the Sunderland fans had been and I told him there had been no problems, just a bit of banter.
‘I didn’t realise Mark gets death threats to him and his family. I didn’t know that kind of thing happened, so it was a bit of a shock to me, a real eye-opener.
'When they’re talking about his family, his kids, talking about putting a bullet in their heads, that’s too far. I haven’t had anything like that.
‘Halsey was trying to make me feel better about my situation by telling me what happened to him, but that’s another level.’
This is the modern-day plight of referees, living in fear of reprisals over decisions made at high speed and under matchday pressure.
It has been a difficult week for officials in light of Chelsea’s complaint into the conduct of Mark Clattenburg at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have filed a report to the FA citing ‘inappropriate language’ towards John Mikel Obi, but no-one at the club denies that the alleged insult is the word ‘monkey’.
This is different territory for a referee, but the 80,000-a-year officials have become accustomed to the abuse and the threats from supporters.
In September, a fan was cautioned by Greater Manchester Police after Halsey, who recovered from throat cancer in 2009, was abused on Twitter.
Halsey had refereed Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Anfield when Liverpool fan John Wareing tweeted: ‘I hope Mark Halsey gets cancer again and dies.’
Death threats: Mark Halsey has received vile abuse from supporters
Taylor added: ‘It’s different for Mark because he gets abuse and threats and it’s down to the decisions he’s made. I asked him how he dealt with it and he said he just had to get on with it and not let it affect him, but that must be incredibly hard.
‘I don’t know how he can shrug that kind of thing off because I’m not that kind of person. He’s a brave guy for what he’s been through and after everything that has been said about his family.’
The abuse is relentless, far more sinister compared with anything Taylor endured at the Stadium of Light after joking that he would rather collect stamps than watch Sunderland.
They responded by singing ‘Steven Taylor, we wish you were dead’, but the big central defender thought nothing of it.
The Newcastle defender added: ‘The Sunderland fans know what I’m like, it was all tongue in cheek, but some of their fans got caught up in the emotion of it.
‘I was only having some fun, stirring things up a bit. I’ve talked to Sunderland fans and they understood it was about getting the North-East derby back up to where it should be.
‘I think the fans were just lost for words about what to sing about me. We were having a laugh with each other, there were 48,000 and the atmosphere is always great there. I really enjoyed it.’
These are volatile times for football, with fans creating hostile atmospheres and players putting intolerable pressure on referees as they press for an advantage.
The Newcastle defender, in the squad for Sunday’s clash at Liverpool, added: ‘Players put massive pressure on referees.
‘In the dressing room before games we are told by one of the backroom staff who is the referee, how many red and yellow cards they’ve given out so far this season.
‘If you act all big time the referee is just going to ignore you. Players are so clever these days and they go down with the slightest of touches.
‘I think we’ve seen them clamping down on this diving thing, but I think it’s getting even harder for referees.
‘Like players, different referees have different characters and egos.
‘People should treat referees the way you want to be treated.
For their own self-respect they need to keep their cool and not let things affect them.’