I’m going to deviate from Arsenal for a little bit today, mainly because I’d only be covering old ground if I talked about spineless defeats and potential exits. Instead, I’m going to take a look at the doomed Respect campaign, which has been so woefully implemented both by the FA and officials since it was introduced. What annoys me the most is that it is so easily improved if anyone showed any kind of backbone. So, here is my ten step guide to clamping down.
1. Hands off. Talk to the players before the game, and indicate that if any player touches you to restrict your motion in any way, they will be sent off. Apologetic shoulder taps are fine, holding your hands down to prevent you booking someone is most definitely not. I was watching the Huddersfield-Bournemouth playoff in midweek, at at one point Kevin Kilbane charged after a Bournemouth player, only for the referee to stand in his way to calm him down. He promptly shoved the official back, who was rightly furious. I was sure a red card would follow, but only a yellow was produced for what is a clear sending off offence. Shockingly weak refereeing.
2. Hounding. A few years ago, referees were given the guidance that if players descended on them en masse, they are entitled and correct to start issuing cards. Ever seen it happen? One of the key points of the campaign was that the captain is the sole voice of the team. If players have something to say to the officials, it should be done through him. Scenes like last weekend when Phil Dowd was hounded by half the United team seeking a penalty should not occur – Dowd was correct to send them away (and correct to award the penalty, incidentally), but Vidic in particular should have seen a card. Start producing them and the problem will go away.
3. Teach them the rules. Have ten rulebooks in your pocket ready to hand to players who clearly are oblivious to the laws of the game. Classic example that you see in practically every match – a player commits a foul deemed worthy of a yellow card, only to protest ‘first one! first one!‘ at the official. At which point he should answer ‘Yes, it is your first foul. But in the rules, it clearly says you can be booked either for a yellow card offence, or persistent fouling. Which do you think I’m doing? Now here’s your rulebook. And your yellow card.‘
4. Dissent. Always book players for dissent. Players can gently question a decision or show disappointment or dismay if something doesn’t go their way. No problem with that – we don’t want to neuter the game, after all. But if anyone charges up to a linesman in anger or yells ‘fuck off‘ at the referee (Rooney wouldn’t last ten minutes), give them the yellow card. No warnings. It seems dissent is accepted in the game as long as you don’t commit the atrocious act of, wait for it, kicking the ball away. Clearly that is the most offensive form of dissent out there. Complete nonsense.
5. Stop players running the game. If a player asks for you to produce a yellow card, do so. But for him. Another key point of Respect is that it is designed to prevent players from trying to run the game. I don’t care that Barcelona would end their first two matches with seven players left on the pitch, they would soon learn. As long as the players have due warning before the game, they can have absolutely no complaints.
6. Stop accepting abuse. A player swearing at themselves is fine. A player swearing at you is not. Again, this isn’t a case of dialing down the passion in the game, but players need to learn to direct their anger appropriately. There was a classic example years ago in an Arsenal-Everton League Cup tie, officiated by Graham Poll, who sent Everton’s James McFadden off in the early stages after a decision didn’t go his way, McFadden appeared to yell ‘You fucking cheat‘ to Poll, and since questioning the integrity of an official should always been met with a red card, the sending off made sense. But McFadden later said that his accent made Poll mishear what he actually said, which was ‘You’re fucking shite‘, which misses the point entirely – that is still foul, abusive and insulting language directed at the referee, which is also a red card offence. It says a lot that he considered this to be a reasonable defence.
7. Explain yourself. Talk to the press after the game. Now, this isn’t in the hands of the referees themselves, it is the FA that deny them this option, but it would not hurt to lobby for it. Every time an official has explained their decisions (even mistakes) to managers and press officers, they’ve instantly gained respect from all parties and the sense that there was logic and reason to what they did. Every time former officials have appeared alongside pundits, they have given fascinating insights. It makes them more human, and it makes them harder to criticise. Is that not the whole point of the campaign?
8. Challenge the liars. Make players be more honest with you. If, for example, a player cries ‘I got the ball‘, after you’ve given a foul against them, say ‘I’ll be looking at a replay of this incident after the match. I’ll be able to see whether I was wrong, or whether you are a liar. Care to tell me in advance?’. I’d love the official to even have the power to award retrospective yellow cards to players who insist on something that plainly isn’t true.
9. Apply the rules. Stop thinking that you have a responsibility to a) keep the game flowing or b) keep 22 players on the field. Both notions are invented by managers and pundits, who are serving their own self-interests. You have a responsibility to apply to rules of the game. So if someone commits a foul in the 10th minute that you would show a yellow card for in the 80th, show them the damn yellow card. Forget that the pundits will say ‘he has set a precedent here‘ or some such nonsense – you are doing nothing of the sort. You are applying the rules, and it will help to achieve the much sought after consistency we all bang on about.
10. Use mics. Not for public consumption, clearly – trying to follow rugby’s example of allowing viewers to listen to everything being said is a step too far. But if all conversations between referees and players are recorded, then managers, pundits and disciplinary officials can hear exactly what has gone on in any circumstance. And perhaps select snippets could be used in the post-match analysis.
I don’t consider any of these to be particularly revolutionary, which is why I fail to understand why they don’t happen. And I certainly don’t buy the argument that six players per match would be sent off if these rules were implemented. I know some footballers are a bit dim, but if you see players being sent off for mouthing at the referee every week, chances are you’ll think twice before going down the same road. And if they know in advance what the consequences are, they have no recourse.
Most important of all – when you, as a referee, have a helpful rule at your disposal, use it. Time and time again they’ve been given the opportunity to clamp down, and they always seem afraid to act. I suspect the FA are largely to blame here – many officials have said in the past that if they acted decisively, they would not be wholeheartedly supported by the governing body. That has to change.
We all get mad at officials. But can anyone say the above pointers wouldn’t help?