by Noel Draper

Over the last couple of weeks I have written about the Football Association’s “Respect” campaign and how, in my eyes, it doesn’t appear to be working. I even managed to interview a “being fast-tracked thank you very much” referee to get a view from the pitch. Unsurprisingly he agreed with my assessment that the campaign appeared to be just a paper exercise that paid lip service to “Respect” and that the Football Association had all but given up with the whole ethos apart from a few badges and the occasional handshake. The trouble is I had a nagging doubt that maybe I was being a bit harsh on football in general. Maybe I was accusing football of ignoring the “Respect” campaign and it was better than I had first thought. Maybe the Football Association had made a difference. There was only one way to find out and that way was to watch a few games of football over the weekend, covering different levels, to see what was what.

My weekend extravaganza started with Chelsea versus Spurs at Saturday lunchtime. I had expected that the usual suspects would prove me right and I found myself willing something to happen but, disappointingly, nothing untoward happened at all. Sure there were a few swear words picked up by the camera, a few dodgy looks aimed at the referee but I didn’t see one player run up to the officials aggressively. All of the decisions I saw seemed to be accepted, albeit with a few moans, but accepted none the less. Strike this game to the Football Association.
I then moved onto a local game in a nearby park to see what the “Respect” campaign means at the lowest levels and if the campaign had actually reach this far down the divisions. After having a quick chat with the referee (Respect? If I don’t get spat at I’ll consider it a good game) the two sides kicked off and to be fair to all concerned nothing out of the ordinary happened. The linesmen, although recruited as per the usual manner of seeing who was hanging around and giving them a flag to wave, seemed to make decisions without being shouted at and the referee managed to avoid being showered in anything until after the game. The fact that it was a very one sided game probably helped matters but once again strike this one to the Football Association.
After a couple of beers (watching football is thirsty work) I was home in time for the next match that I had planned to take in. Stoke City versus Manchester City promised much as one team needed to win to continue their challenge on the title and one team didn’t but once again there really was nothing to report on. Sure the referee made a few decisions that caused some of the footballers to question his thought patterns but on the whole it was a clean game as far as “Respect” was concerned. Another strike to the Football Association.

Watching Di Canio, the Swindon manager, telling one of his players to get up after a strong but fair tackle was particularly encouraging.

Come Sunday, come three more games including one Cup Final and one Old Firm derby. This is where things would hot up, this is where my ramblings of the last few weeks would hold true and this is where the “Respect” campaign would prove to be the paper exercise that I thought it was.

First up was the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final from Wembley. Swindon Town were the favourites and promised much but in the end it was the dogged style of Chesterfield that won out. What also won out was the respect shown to the officials from both sides including the managers. Watching Di Canio, the Swindon manager, telling one of his players to get up after a strong but fair tackle was particularly encouraging but this probably wasn’t down to the F.A and more to do with the manager in question. Still, another strike to the Football Association. This was getting depressing. A fast-tracked referee had poured scorn on the campaign and I had agreed with him but from what I had witnessed we were completely wrong.

Still, what was coming next would re-address the balance a little bit. The Old Firm derby which, if Celtic won, would have meant that they would win the title. At Rangers’ ground. The game proved to be promising especially as a Celtic player happened to get sent off for a yellow card offense, in my eyes anyway, but it wasn’t the players that contested this decision but the Celtic manager, who proceeded to harangue the 4th official. Another sending off saw Neil Lennon lose it completely and he himself was dismissed. During all of this the players still carried on accepting the referee’s decisions which, going on some of the previous Old Firm games, was great to see. Mr Lennon then managed to disrespect the officials in the post match interview. Strike one to me.

Last up is the Premiership game between W.B.A and Newcastle. Both teams like to play lovely football and so I wasn’t expecting a lot of contentious decisions and this proved correct as Newcastle showed how to counter attack away from home.  It was a good game to watch and a good game for the officials. The fifth strike to the F.A.

So there you go. Six games watched and only one game that had something to report and that was from a manager and not the players. Maybe the “Respect” campaign had made a difference and was still continuing to do so. Maybe the handshake at the start of the game, something that didn’t happen in the park game by the way, had led to better behaviour on the pitch. Whatever the reason I will let you in on a little secret. I’m pleased that it appears to be working because over the course of the weekend I witnessed some great games of football and although one manager tried to prove me right I enjoyed all of them. Which surely is what football is all about. Isn’t it?