Respect / Response

The Football League has a new set of rules to cope with the “unacceptable levels” of “intolerable behaviour” by players and managers in English football.

Ad absurdum these new rules mean that players can be booked for bumping into the Referee but more practically they give the officials the power send players off for swearing at them or insulting them.

Which is unarguable on the surface and few people would suggest that anyone should have to put up with abuse, insults and swearing directed towards them. Of course the Football League is not going to do anything within the context of the laws of the game to prevent players from being the object of this – racist abuse supporters is entirely a Police matter – and when it gets onto the field we they prefer to punish the victim.

The detail is more murky. Reading the list some of the enumerated offences are practically useful to stop match officials from being insulted and abused but, smuggled within those, are offences created to stop players from questioning or disagreeing with decisions.

Take the unclear working “visibly disrespectful behaviour to any match official” and imagine a defender who has seen a forward dive over his withdrawn leg to win a penalty. The double hand swallow dive mime is a direct question to the authority of the Referee who has given the incorrect decision but should it be a yellow card offence? It is now.

As is banging the floor hard when a forward is brought down and believes he should have had a penalty but sees the Referee wave play on. Smash the ground with your fist and of course what you are doing is questioning the Referee’s decision but is that a bad thing?

What is the ethical merit of never questioning Referees? Why is it virtuous for players to accept every decision as correct even when they may know better than the official that it is not? Everyone knows the practical benefits of an unquestioned autocracy but few welcome it in other areas of life.

It is not as if the match officials are never wrong. Ask the better ones and they will tell players they are often wrong but try to be right as often as they can be. Those Referees seem to be the ones which players respect.

Which is, in the end, the root of these new laws. The dual belief that match officials are drowned in a sea of disrespect and a misguided sense of how respect can be forced into players. On the former point one could be excused for thinking that events at Bradford City games are drastically different from the rest of football.

One struggles to remember any significant incidents of abuse of officials worthy of the name at City matches going back years. I’m sure they hear the odd bad word and that some of them are directed at them but nothing that stopped them doing the job as evidenced by the fact that no games descended into chaos or anything similar.

This idea that football is awash with disrespect of officials at the professional level to the point where it is obvious to supporters – and thus that it could make a difference as an example at other levels of football – is not true. Stamp out all disrespect from professional League One football and it would look exactly as it does now, unless you increase the definition of disrespect to include any questioning of a decision.

Which speaks to the idea that respect can be forced into footballers. It cannot.

Questioning a decision – and there are right and wrong ways to do that – is a natural reaction and one that a grown man is allowed to have. Football seems very much concerned with stopping this.

Referees seem very much concerned with stopping this as if stopping anyone showing what they consider to be disrespect means that there is no disrespect and, by extension, that they are respected.

But respect can’t be forced and if anyone in football wants to seriously think about respect as an issue then perhaps they should consider the inherent lack of respect with which football treats the players. They are told not not even think that that the Referee could be wrong.

Referees are not Headmasters. They have the responsibility for enforcing the laws of the game but that is where their role stops. They are not responsible for the behaviour of the players just for enforcing the laws when behaviour transgresses those rules.

From today they can be booked – told off – for banging their fists on the floor in frustration at a wrong decision.

Footballers are treated like children and these new guidelines smuggle in more ways to tell them off for questioning as if they were kids to an demanding father.

Maybe changing that is where respect should start.

Respect – The new way of Refereeing

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?