The Return of the Gentleman’s Game to English Football

Photo by Leslie Millman-Manchesterunitedman1

Born in England, football has always been considered by purists as a gentleman’s game. But lately the notion seems reserved for nostalgic old-timers, pining fuddy-duddies ignorant of the modern game’s evolution.

The growth of the sport in the last decade, particularly in its founding nation, has shifted the emphasis from sport to business. Money is too rife, and it must be made at all costs; usually at the expense of respect for the game’s tradition.

In the Premier League especially, the relationship between footballers and referees is one of shameless bullying. On any given weekend teammates surround referees, shouting incomprehensible, general negativity, in the shameless hope to viscerally intimidate a referee into an immediate and emotional —or a later and subconscious— game-changing decision.

These same illicitly rich players will then oversell fouls, blatantly simulate, exaggerate any knock in hope of gaining a competitive advantage.

But why shouldn’t they? The risk of being disciplined is nearly non-existent while the reward for winning a penalty or getting someone sent off is ostensibly match-deciding.

It’s hard to fault the players. They’re products of a new-wave footballing culture that promotes trickery over teamwork, the flashes of skill ending up on YouTube and propagating an individual’s Twitter audience. It’s a culture that demands results over play, the monetary reward generally too great to risk playing honestly and honorably.

The FA had tried to curb such misbehavior from England’s shores with the Respect campaign. But referees didn’t have the backbone to enforce it, not for long, and now it’s used as a butt of jokes to mock the Association and its confused bureaucracy.

After all, respect is earned, not advertised for. It is demanded, not begged for. And now it’s clear that walking children out before games to hold banners and sing folk songs is obviously not trailblazing a paradigm shift in England’s footballing culture.

But comments Thursday from the chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, refreshingly reflect a desire — rooted in necessity — to clean up the game’s application with an increased emphasis on disciplining petulant behavior from players.

“I think we do need to concentrate on the player and manager relationship with the referee this time, as every one of us knows that there have been elements of unacceptable behavior,” Scudamore told the BBC Thursday.

“As to what we think is unacceptable; it’s vitriolic abuse towards match officials and that has on occasions gone unpunished; the surrounding of referees is unacceptable; the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sanctioned we think is unacceptable; and also the undue criticism, where it spills over into questioning the referee’s integrity or his honesty is also unacceptable.”

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7 Comments

  1. Steven April 3, 2011
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