by Noel Draper

I have been watching the matches in the rugby Six Nations with special interest due to the balance between violence and politeness that is on show. On the pitch the thirty players appear to be hell bent on just running into each other at very high speeds repeatedly. Even when they go over the try line the player will still keep running looking for someone to jump on. Blood appears to be a normal fixture as does the throwing of the odd fist but this is all dealt with by a referee who commands respect from all the players. He will call the captain’s over and have a small chat, telling them that a certain player on their team needs a quite word and he will do this whilst being miked up. In the few matches I have watched I have never heard a swear word used from any of the players he is talking to. The official’s on the touchlines also manage to run up and down waving their flag in different directions without anyone questioning their decisions or shouting at them, red faced, from two inches. It all works very well.

So, if the official’s of one of the world’s most violent sport’s can command respect from everyone on the pitch, why can’t the official’s of the nation’s favourite sport? Why do the players feel the need to run up to a linesman, surround him and then argue a decision that won’t be reversed? Why do the players seem to contest every decision made by the referee? Why do we see players swearing at the official’s? The answer is very simple. Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the behemoth of couldn’t be arsedness that is The Football Association.

A governing body of any sport needs to have defined rules and regulations that all the participating players and officials keep to but it’s no use to anyone if you lay the rules down and then don’t bother enforcing them and this is what has happened with the governing bodies “Respect” campaign. The blurb for the campaign makes for very good reading, so good in fact that I’m going to quote it.

“Respect is the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football to create a fair, safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take place.”

What you need to do Mr Football Association is to crack down properly.

There you go. It sounds lovely doesn’t it so why is it not working? The clue might be in the rest of the blurb that is on the F.A website. “Overall most match officials have an enjoyable experience of officiating and are treated with respect by most participants” it says. That’s great, well done for enjoying your job, referee person. “There are 6,000 more referees than in 2008” it continues. Once again great news Mr F.A. I, for one, am really pleased you have hired more officials because anyone can tell you that to gain respect you just need to hire more staff. Goes without saying.  The blurb continues with “Overall across the FL and PL dissent has fallen by 16 per cent since 2008/09”. This is also excellent news.
Well done to the F.A for hiring more staff and keeping records of dissent but how exactly has this transferred onto the pitch? Well, I have something to say to all the old men who sit around tables in dusty rooms at Lancaster Gate and it is this. Put the scotch glass down and listen. Ready? Your Respect campaign might be working on spreadsheets but it’s not working in real life. There, I said it. It’s not bloody working you old duffers. Do you hear me? It’s not working.

What you need to do Mr Football Association is to crack down properly. Stop filling in spreadsheets and start doing what you set out to do in the first place. If a player shouts and snarls at an official then book him. Straight away. If an official finds himself surrounded by lots of red faced footballers pushing him every so slightly so they can get away with it then book them. All of them. If a player dislikes a decision and voices this dislike via the medium of swearing loudly with lot’s of horrible words then book him. If he continues then send him off. Take direct action and stamp down on all of this and ever so slowly things will change. Children watching football will see what happens if they copy their hero’s and won’t bother copying them anymore. In ten years time you won’t need to spend money on a campaign because there will be no call for it.

Football will then become the game that it used to be rather than something that is shamed by a collection of cauliflower eared ex-lawyers and that can only be a good thing. Can’t it?