The Respect campaign is five years old this season, so how’s that going? Well, it depends on how you judge such things.
The view of the players, as voiced by players union head Clarke Carlisle is that behaviour of players has improved and that there is simply more focus on those incidents where players go a bit bonkers and start calling the referee lots of rude names.
On the other side, others say that behaviour is getting worse with players institutionalized into the concept of cheating and generally trying to trick referees at every opportunity. Critics would say there is precious little respect at all.
Then again, players would argue that refereeing standards are often poor and at best inconsistent and so its no surprise that they call him a c**t from time to time.
Others still say this sets a bad example to children and more dangerously to adults who play football on a Sunday and decide to exercise retribution of referees by punching them in the throat.
Assaults on refs in all non professional leagues have increased markedly in the last five years supposedly, though I’m not sure these figures were ever collated before is not clear.
So at best, the Respect campaign can be said to have been of limited success. Compared to other sports – rugby is often cited- where officials are spoken to with decorum and good manners, football seems to revel in its bad boy image, even though rugby is far more violent and involves gouging out eyes and pulling firmly on another man’s scrotum.
I can’t help thinking that while the Respect campaign’s aims are noble enough – when it comes to refereeing, the abuse of the referee has long been an important part of the culture of the game on the pitch and on the terraces.
You can prove anything with statistics and especially with stats that have only recently been collected because there is precious little to compare them to to prove they’re getting better or worse but I’ve been going to football for 40 years and not on any occasion has the ref not come in for abuse from players and fans. Not once. It’s not a recent thing, it’s not a modern affliction, it’s not a latest sign of the breakdown of society. It’s always happened but until recently, it was taken less seriously as a social phenomenon, rightly or wrongly.
Making refs professional was supposed to elevate their standards and that in return would reduce controversial decisions and arguments. But rather, this has aggravated everyone. Professional or not, you’re still relying on using your eyes and your judgment and so many of the calls in football are assessments of intention. Which is where all the trouble usually lies.
Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to employ the school teachers and butchers of yore such as David Ellery and Jack Taylor, who reffed the 1974 World Cup final. These tended to be men with innate authority. Often this is what is missing. Decisions will always get made that are incorrect but too often referees seem too, well, wimpy. Authority is a nebulous thing but you know when you meet it, don’t you? You instantly know a man who commands authority; there’s no mistaking it. And you need that to control a game as emotional as football. Perhaps that is what is missing from the game too; not respect but authority. But authority is not something you can breed or train into an official. It has to come from within.