London (AFP) – Premier League stars have been warned they must show more respect to referees in a wide-ranging clampdown on petulant behaviour ahead of the new season.
Frustrated by the growing trend for players to harass officials with foul-mouth abuse and aggressive posturing, the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League on Wednesday announced they have joined forces in a bid to stamp out the problem.
The English game’s governing bodies are concerned that scenes of players and managers surrounding match officials, making physical contact and yelling abuse are being copied by children in age-group football.
Incidents which underlined the need for a new hardline approach include Leicester striker Jamie Vardy abusing referee Jonathan Moss after being controversially sent off for diving against West Ham in April and the series of brawls that marred Tottenham’s crucial draw at Chelsea and led to big fines for both clubs.
“That (Chelsea game) wasn’t a trigger for this but it underscored a good reason why we needed to get a move on,” FA chief executive Martin Glenn said.
“We are saying this behavioural stuff, which is pretty black and white, isn’t acceptable.
“The one thing that would make people love football more is a set of behaviours they would be proud to see their kids follow.”
From the start of this season, players who use offensive language towards officials will be punished with a red card, while aggressive physical contact will also earn an instant sending off.
More yellow cards are likely as referees have been told to book all players who run to officials, stand face to face with them or aggressively invade their personal space.
If a referee is surrounded by multiple players, he is mandated to book at least one of the offenders, and Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore insisted there will be no softening of the approach if it leads to a flurry of dismissals early in the season.
– Emotional –
“If participant behaviour doesn’t improve, then there will be more yellow and red cards,” Scudamore said.
“The game has put a huge effort into education, to try to ensure we don’t have this extra spate of cards, but we are prepared to deal with it.
“The clubs are committed and we are committed to see this through.”
The Premier League will for the first time meet all clubs prior to the season in a bid to ensure the plan is understood and Championship clubs have contributed to a fund that will pay for full-time referees in the second tier.
“We’re looking to make a change in the way our participants behave and how they are seen around the world,” Scudamore said.
“It starts with applying the laws of the game.”
Amid concerns some officials have been getting too cosy with players and managers, referees have been told not to touch players themselves and the fourth official will now be on less friendly terms with managers and coaching staffs to avoid accusations of bias.
“One of the hardest jobs in football is to stand between two emotional technical areas,” Professional Referees’ manager Mike Riley said.
“There’s a place for smiles but one thing we noticed is in engaging with one technical area it can appear over familiar.”
There will inevitably be criticism of the plan from some managers and players and even Scudamore was slightly off message when he said Chelsea’s battle with Tottenham was “a guilty pleasure. You couldn’t come away from that game thinking it wasn’t compelling”.
Gordon Taylor, the Professional Footballers’ Association boss, echoed that sentiment.
“The delicate nature of this is what attracts people is the spice and physical contact. I don’t think we should be sorry for that,” he said.
“You can go to the cinema with your grandchildren and its fine, but sometimes it’s better to have a film with a bit of spice.”
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