IAN LADYMAN: Football has allowed the mob to rule for years and this ANARCHY is the result. Players manhandling referees, touchline tyrants haranguing officials – yet NO top-flight player sent off for swearing at ref in a decade. That must change
- One Premier League star has been sent off in a decade for swearing at a referee
- Cricket and rugby would not accept abuse of officials but football has allowed it
- It would be wonderful if Sunday became a watershed moment for the sport
In modern professional football in this country, an unpalatable but nevertheless unquestionable truth has emerged. It is OK to aim abuse at a referee or match official using certain swear words but not others.
So it is pretty much OK to tell a referee in the Premier League to ‘f*** off’. If a player does that, he will generally be OK. If he uses stronger words — say for example one that begins with a ‘c’ — then he may not be OK.
Where exactly the line in the sand is drawn is not scientific. There is no style book to which our officials can refer. Each man or woman in black has their interpretation of what is an acceptable level of abuse. One man’s ‘w****r’ may be another woman’s ‘b*****d’.
But what we can deduce is that the line is pretty generous. In order to cross to the wrong side of it, a footballer has to try pretty hard. A casual foul-mouthed aside as he runs past the referee in the centre circle is unlikely to do it. Nor, it must be said, is a flurry of effing, jeffing and finger-jabbing.
And the reason we know this is that referees in the Premier League never send players off for the things they say. And when we say never, we mean hardly ever. The last time it happened? Lee Cattermole of Sunderland versus Mike Dean in a top-flight game more than 10 years ago.
Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent off for shoving referee Chris Kavanagh on Sunday
Lee Cattermole was the last Premier League player to be sent off for swearing at an official
Referees are regularly surrounded by players when making decisions throughout matches
Ten years. There have been an awful lot of swear words cast on to a Saturday and Sunday afternoon breeze since then. Heaven knows what Cattermole must have said.
Which brings us to now and the abysmal state of things. Football is at the mercy of the mob and has been for a long time. The mob who surround the referee in the centre circle when a decision is made. The mob made up of substitutes, managers, coaches and technical staff — whatever they are — who harangue the poor soul with the worst job in football, the fourth official.
Football is a mob’s game now and by and large the mob always win. The odd yellow card is shown. More than ever for this kind of thuggery, we are told. Tuts will be tutted in the Match of the Day studio, provided there is actually somebody there. But in terms of real punishment — the kind that would alter the course of a game or make players and managers think twice — that remains buried in a referee’s pocket.
The red card is rarely used for foul and abusive language and if football is ever to drag itself from this particular gutter, then that is going to have to change.
Sunday at Old Trafford was lively, for sure. Marco Silva — the Fulham boss — sent off for whatever it was he said to the fourth official. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Silva’s centre forward, dismissed for some abuse and a shove into the upper arm of referee Chris Kavanagh.
Silva was not contrite afterwards, choosing instead to talk of an early penalty not given to his team and what he believes to have been a sub-standard performance by Kavanagh when Fulham played West Ham earlier this season.
Fulham boss Marco Silva was not contrite following his dismissal in the FA Cup quarter-final
It was an appropriate environment in which to carp. The laird of Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson, used to see refereeing ghosts where there were none, too. If it wasn’t all so typical it would be worthy of deeper analysis.
Players and their managers have been allowed to exist in an environment of privilege for so long that when we do see a referee take decisive action, it sends a jolt to the system. It should not be this way. This does not happen in either code of rugby, where the captain of a team alone is permitted to approach the referee and even then only in a respectful manner. It does not happen in cricket. Can you imagine the uproar if it did?
It only happens in football because it is allowed to. It has become part of the game and it is a part of the game that stinks.
In every newspaper’s picture library sits a famous old picture of Roy Keane and his United players going after referee Andy D’Urso at Old Trafford in January 2000. The vein in Keane’s temple is visible, such is the ferocity of his ire. Jaap Stam is beside him. Close in are reinforcements — Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. The Crass of ’92.
It is famous because back then it was a pretty exceptional moment. D’Urso is captured physically bending backwards, like a sapling in a hurricane. The Sky Sports report described it as ‘shocking’ and Keane actually apologised. But would such a thing be so out of the ordinary now? Probably not and that is very much the point.
Law 12 gives referees all the power they need to reverse the trend. It states clearly that action can be taken if a player is ‘guilty of dissent, using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures or other verbal offences’.
A famous photo shows Manchester United players going after referee Andy D’Urso in 2000
Players’ approach to officials in football would not be tolerated in sports like cricket or rugby
Referees care about the way the game looks. They want football to flow. That is understandable. They don’t want to flash endless red cards.
But football’s wider reputation is important, too. Players and managers will never do their bit to rotate the wheel back where it came from. They simply do not care enough.
So sadly the responsibility rests with the referees and their assistants. It would be wonderful if Sunday in Manchester is one day looked back upon as some kind of watershed moment for our sport.
More likely it will be filed next to ‘Cattermole and Dean’. A curiosity.
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