Budleigh Salterton were leading 3-0 and comfortably in control 38 minutes into their South West Peninsula League Eastern Division game at home to Axminster Town when the referee abandoned proceedings as a number of fights broke out involving players from both sides.

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The opening half hour offered little to suggest of what was to come and, ultimately end the game prematurely.

Budleigh made a flying start and were ahead in the first minute, doubled their lead on 11 minutes and added a third on the half hour.

Minutes later came the initial incident that led to fights breaking out in two areas of the pitch and the referee, clearly left with no other course of action, called a premature halt to the proceedings.

One person who was at the game after their match had been called off described what he saw as: “Dreadful, such incidents have no place in the game and send a terrible message to younger people. What I witnessed was an outrageous loss of control by individuals.”

After the game the South West Peninsula League website carried the following statement: “The league officers are aware that the East Division fixture, Budleigh Salterton v Axminster Town, was abandoned today by the match referee.

The matter will be placed into the hands of Devon County FA regarding any and all misconduct charges. The result of, or any decision as to replay, or not, the match will not be considered by the board until such time that misconduct proceedings have been completed. The game is listed as 31st May on the league website purely as a holding date.”

Axminster Town chairman Ray Self missed the game as he was deeply entrenched in work regarding his club’s development plans.

He said: “I was not there. However, upon hearing a number of accounts I immediately asked for reports from various parties so I could come to some sort of early conclusion. As a result of those reports I called the Budleigh Salterton secretary to apologise for the actions of any Axminster Town players and management who had been involved in what were clearly very ugly scenes. You simply cannot condone what happened on the pitch on Saturday.

“No matter what any perceived provocation may, or may not be, the simple fact is that what went on went way beyond what can be deemed acceptable behaviour on, or off, a football pitch. There are those who may feel my quick call of apology was too hasty, but I say to that, when incidents like this happen, thankfully only very occasionally, you have to stand up and front them up.

“It’s clear as I understand it that nobody involved comes out of the incidents on Saturday with any form of credit. Greenway Lane has a place in our club’s history for it was there that we won the East Devon Senior Cup and they are a club very similar to ours, run by well-meaning football people and they always offer exceptional hospitality. I felt it important to let them know that our club would not condone such behaviour. I have also spoken to the League secretary to apologise and beyond that I want to say no more as we are going to hold a committee meeting at the club to decide upon what we do next about this whole sorry affair.”

Budleigh Salterton released the following statement: “The officials and management committee at Budleigh Salterton Football Club are extremely sorry that it was our club which became involved in an unsavoury incident which led the match referee to abandon the game after just 38 minutes. This is especially exasperating because at the time we were leading the game by 3–0 and fully in control. We are collating information from various sources, but given the general circumstances we anticipate action will be taken by the Devon F A. If that occurs the matter will effectively be ‘sub judice’ and it would not be proper to add anything further at this stage.

The two teams meet again in the league at Sector Lane, Axminster, on Saturday (2.15pm).

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