STT was pleased to learn that this week The FA have decided that maybe next season they might possibly try and finally actually do something about referee and linesman intimidation by inaugurating a new law prohibiting anyone except the team’s captain from speaking to the officials. Excuse while I now mount my high horse for a touch of objective preaching.
Perhaps the main reason the casual observer is put off watching football is the unbelievable contempt shown by players towards the referee and his assistants. The number of times on TV you will see players screaming obscenities into these guys’ faces is pretty disgraceful, and it’s something which has to change soon. Although STT would never condone actually watching rugby, if an egg-chasing referee has something to say, the players are quiet, listen and absolutely will not talk back.
Quite why this is, I’m not sure, however it would not take long for footballers to learn if, every time they swore at an official they were immediately disciplined on the field and then subsequently reprimanded by the club. Drastic no diggidy, but this is an ugly part of the game that simply has to be addressed, especially since no decision has ever been overturned, and there is no bonus for elaborate insults as in comedy movie ‘classic’ BASEketball.
It is a notion that is clearly achievable as well; under Brian Clough, his incredibly successful Nottingham Forest team of the 1970s were instructed to never disrespect the game’s officials, and Clough himself was the one to discipline them if they did. Former Premier League referee Graham Poll has remarked that he's pleased the former Cloughie players have taken this principle of good discipline into their management careers. Poll told The Daily Fascist last year that the nicest manager he had to deal with was Stuart Pearce, and adds that Roy Keane has shown “great restraint and respect” when dealing with match officials as Sunderland boss. He continued: “Brian Clough's players were known for their discipline and their respect for referees at Nottingham Forest. Their manager demanded it, and two European Cups and a League title are proof that it didn't exactly damage their results.” Those who played under Clough, such as the aforementioned Pearce and Keane, as well as Villa manager Martin O'Neill, seem to have continued that trait. On the other hand, managers coached by Ferguson during United's mid-90s referee haranguing days have proved to be much less respectful towards officials and this attitude has led to fines for both Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes.
Taking this whole thing a step further still, if the captain were to act as a sole liaison with the game’s officials, it would allow them to more fully explain their decisions, while essenitally leaving it up to the captain to convey the message and manage his team’s behaviour on the field.
Ok back down to earth now, and ranting aside, no-one can deny that this would not be a huge improvement to the game. Interestingly, both these above two ideas have recently been adopted by Barnet F.C. of all clubs, where the entire playing staff have been asked to sign a binding ‘Code of Conduct’ agreement with the club to ensure that only their captain speaks to the referee and no intimidation of officials takes place. This a great step in the right direction, but whether other teams will follow their example is yet to be seen. As the overwhelming ratio of Chelsea-related incidents interspersed here show, Avram Grant, I’m looking at you…