The referee Mark Halsey has complained to Greater Manchester Police about the vile tweets directed towards him and his wife following Liverpool's defeat by Manchester United on Sunday.
Halsey's fight against throat cancer in 2009 was referenced on Twitter after United's 2-1 win at Anfield, where the 51-year-old dismissed Liverpool's midfielder Jonjo Shelvey for a dangerous challenge on Jonny Evans and awarded the late penalty that enabled Robin van Persie to seal the victory. Halsey's wife, who has also been fighting cancer, was even mentioned in some tweets.
"I can confirm that my family have made a complaint to the police," Halsey told the BBC. "I will be speaking to the police on Wednesday after I have returned from refereeing Southampton v Sheffield Wednesday."
One of the abusive messages came from an account named @johnwareing1 and read: "I hope Mark Halsey gets cancer again and dies". Another, from @lfcjohn259, said: "Mark Halsey shouldve died of cancer", before being deleted. Both accounts have since been removed.
The abuse was condemned as "beneath contempt" by the match officials's union, Prospect. Alan Leighton, national secretary of the union, said: "Prospect wholeheartedly condemns the unacceptable abuse aimed at Mark Halsey on Twitter. The comments made by a very small minority will be seen as beneath contempt by all decent people. The main concern now is for Mark and his family, who are receiving the support of his employer, PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited). Prospect will also provide any assistance as required."
Halsey returned to refereeing in March 2010 and, after the Capital One Cup match at Southampton, is due to take charge of Fulham against Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday.
The former referee Dermot Gallagher said: "I know Mark as a friend and ex-colleague and, certainly, he will be shaken by it. Some things cross the boundaries, and this has. You expect stick as a referee, that is the nature of the game, but I think this has crossed the boundaries."
A statement from PGMOL read: "PGMOL abhors any abuse of match officials whether that is in stadia or outside of it. Our main concern is towards Mark and his family, and as with all match officials, there is a backroom team who are there for them. This includes a sports psychologist, who has worked extensively with the Select Group including Mark over the past few years. Mark has already benefited from the support of all of his Select Group colleagues and they will continue to back him this week."
The FA, meanwhile, is not expected to take any action over the offensive chanting by United supporters after Sunday's game.