Issue Respect – The new way of Refereeing

As told by Paul Firth

I’d heard about the new season’s ‘Respect’ campaign. I’d seen a few of the TV adverts. I especially liked the one where our Euro 2008 ref from Rotherham, Mr Webb, (Well, ‘Howard’ doesn’t seem sufficiently respectful, does it?) is seen as a player with a headlock on an opponent while they both wait for a set piece to be taken. It did strike me that if our refs actually penalised some of those wrestling matches with bookings, rather than just held up the play and lectured the wrestlers, then they might win more respect and we might return to more football.

But then I heard that one of the ‘Respect’ rules was to ban instant replays from the manager’s dugout. I’m still struggling to find what’s right about that ruling. First of all, if a manager really wants know what the replay shows, there’ll be a screen out of sight and an earpiece link. Remember Jose Morinho and the man with the woolly hat? Secondly, how is it ‘disrespectful’ when the manager sees instantly what he would have seen at the end of the game and what the watching millions have seen anyway? Oh, I know the answer or at least I can guess what the FA thinks. If the manager doesn’t see a screen, he can’t rant straight away. (Well, he can actually, because some wrong decisions don’t need a replay to show how bad they were.) So, you see, it’s not the access to technology that’s disrespectful, but the rant that follows. Of course, that there’s only a rant when what the technology shows is how bad the decision was must be regarded as irrelevant, mustn’t it?

My real grouse with the technology bit is that the FA shouldn’t be banning it from the dugout, but should be offering it to the refs or at least to the fourth official. I’ve just seen on TV the most blatant penalty not to be given from the first day of the season (and neither of the teams has any claim on my allegiance). I shall not reveal the details. This way I can be respectful to the referee in question. But I know which ref it was. Respect? I don’t think so. Not until he comes out and tells us why he waved play on.

But what I did see in person at Valley Parade was another ‘Respect’ idiocy, the ceremonial entry on to the field and shaking of hands. Come on, who is it that thinks this is going to make a scrap of difference? By the time the coin’s tossed, we’ve all forgotten about lining up and shaking hands. We’re playing in claret and amber and they’re not. It was ever thus and a summary handshake at 2.55 will change absolutely nothing.

And the 14000 of us who saw the Notts County throw-in near the end of the game know just how much respect there was by that time. The ref had clearly told Evans to throw the ball out of play so Daley could be treated. Evans had equally clearly thrown it into touch within a very few yards of the corner flag (lesson to learn, says Stuart McCall in his post-match interview, about hoofing it into touch on the half-way line), in the natural expectation that it would be thrown back to him once the injury was treated and Daley was off the field (another silly rule!). So why didn’t the ref give a free kick and book somebody for unsportsmanlike behaviour? Maybe the FA will have an answer for that one. Perhaps he didn’t know how many of them had been unsportsmanlike! Until they come up with an answer, I shall say it was disrespectful on the part of both Notts County and then the ref, who seemed to be less inclined to show respect to the spirit of the game and perhaps more inclined to demand respect for his own decisions.

Oh, and one last thing on that throw. If the keeper needs to be told on radio that it’s a lesson to be learnt about where he puts the ball out of play, maybe someone with more experience, coming on to the scene only after the final whistle, when we’ve won and tempers should have cooled, might learn not to go within a hundred yards of the player responsible for the unsportsmanlike behaviour. That way there’s no risk of a ‘clash’. Now that he doesn’t have Deano to ‘mind’, maybe Wethers can continue his old role once he’s allowed out of the dugout at the end of the game. And, for this ref only, Wethers, could you keep an eye on the car park for an hour or two after the match? Or is that disrespectful?