Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A thought on football yobbery

So, the football season is with us again. Today we had the grand unwrapping of the new "Respect" programme which pretends to promote good behaviour of players towards referees. It will, I confidently predict, result in no change whatsoever.

Players do not intimidate referees for the fun of it, they do it because their managers tell them to do it. The managers do not give those instructions for the fun of it, they do so because they know a cowed official is more likely to favour their side. The only thing that will eliminate this dreadful spectacle is the imposition of stiff penalties, as there are in rugby and cricket. A single word of dissent in rugby leads to play moving 10 metres closer to your line which gives a significant advantage to your opponents; not surprisingly, arguing with match officials in rugby is rare. A single word or gesture of dissent in cricket leads to warnings, financial penalties or even suspension; a bowler who dissents can be prevented from bowling further in the innings. Not surprisingly, dissent in cricket is rare. If you go back thirty years you would find occasional instances of this sort of behaviour in the more excitable countries of Europe and South America, now it is universal.

Misbehaviour on the football pitch goes much further than dissent against official decisions, sadly. These days it seems to be compulsory for players to let out a string of abusive language if they make a mistake, but you would not have seen Bobby Charlton, Pele or Franz Beckenbauer doing so; they would shake their head, sigh and get on with their work. What I find most disappointing is that the culture of vulgarity in football is not limited to badly brought up thugs like Wayne Rooney and Joey Barton. Even intelligent men who were raised to be polite and respectful, such as the Neville Brothers, have been caught by it and do things they would never dream of doing off a football pitch.

The causes of this problem are so complex and long-standing that it is impossible to change the whole atmosphere quickly. One problem, in my opinion, is that football is treated in the press and on television and radio as though it really matters. It does not really matter, it is a sport, an entertainment, a side-show. That does not mean that entertainments cannot be an important part of people's lives, but when they become an obsession they can be damaging. If you doubt that many take support of their team too seriously, listen to a radio phone-in on football, you will witness the most extraordinary lack of perspective from many of the callers. Not once will you hear the host of the show saying "it's only a game", instead they stir-up and encourage obsession, thereby giving a form of "official" approval. This is carried onto the terraces, leading to an atmosphere that many, myself included, find intimidating.

A good start would be immediate yellow cards for any dissent and for excessive swearing (it would be unreasonable to punish the occasional exasperated outburst). The referees will need to be strong and to be given unqualified support by the organising bodies and, if that happens, strong penalties for dissent will result in a cultural change for the better.

The "respect" programme will not result in any improvement because it fails to provide effective sanctions. Another season of organised yobbery will follow and this time next year another weak proposal will be made. Eventually they might get the message.

1 comment:

Old Holborn said...

Referees should be allowed to carry guns.

Any dissent would automatically result in a substitution as the bullet riddled carcass of some fat nancyboy prima dona was dragged off the field and fed to the pigs.

The away fans get to burn down the house of any of the home teams players who are slaughtered and vice versa.

That should keep all these pyschos happy for an afternoon.