In part one of my ten ways to improve the game; I looked at technology and the reasons behind why we need it introduced into football. However, not all sections of this ten part blog series will be as glaringly obvious as the pining for Video Technology to be introduced into our game.
Here, in part two, I will look at the problem of dissent shown all too commonly on match days, the way it influences those on the terraces and watching at home and the steps that we should consider to try and help eradicate it from our game.
Part Two: Dealing with Dissent
Watching Andy Carroll on any given Saturday afternoon, it is clear to see that the 6ft3 tall Liverpool man is constantly impeded, fouled and wronged by every defender, pundit and fan. Why else would he rant and rave at every single decision that goes against him, mouthing expletives in the direction of an official who has made yet another error with Carroll the victim?
The problem with most Premier League players is they want it all. Every call, every 50-50, every decision and every single free-kick awarded their way. So when the likes of Andy Carroll misses the target after jumping with a centre back, and needs someone to vent his anger at, who better than the man in black who’ll let you call him every name under the sun without punishment.
It has gradually crept into our game more-and-more in recent years yet we all know it is not a new phenomenon. I remember sat down on a Friday night watching Match of the Seventies with by old man when I was younger and seeing Leeds harangue officials in each episode. They were like a pack of wild animals shouting, screaming, berating and moaning. The referee would rather quickly find himself back pedalling away from a group of white shirts intent on intimidating him so that next time he’d be in no two minds about the call he should be making as Leeds imposed themselves on the game.
Fast forward twenty years and the problems were still prevalent. Sir Alex Ferguson would see his Manchester United side carry favour with officials on an almost weekly basis as the men in red appeared immune from the referee brandishing cards for foul and abusive language or aggressive behaviour.
As Manchester United got away with what appeared to tantamount to murder in some fans eyes, other sides travelled to Old Trafford knowing they’d rarely get the big decisions let alone an elusive penalty which escaped the visitors grasp. When Ruel Fox scored from the spot for Norwich City back in December 1993, little did he know that in the decade that would follow, only three further spot kicks would be awarded to those visiting United.
However, as the Premier League gathered pace, more money became involved and other sides cottoned on, soon it was not just Manchester United that were attempting to gain favour with officials by means of dissent and intimidation.
Chelsea captain John Terry was reportedly once told “you need to be taught a lesson” when being shown a red card in an away game at White Hart Lane and most, it is fair to say, would have been in agreement with referee Graham Poll had such a statement been proven.
Chelsea, like United, found their apparent leniency from officials increase gradually as success on the pitch became more common. No longer was it just one or two sides putting pressure on match officials but a whole host of teams battling near the top end hoping that in the long run, it may gain them a point here or there.
Watch a game in England this weekend, whether it be in the top flight, non-league or a park pitch on a Sunday morning and you will not have to wait too long for the first act of dissent to be visible. But why has it become such an issue on the modern game? Well that is simple. Exposure.
When Sky Sports gave the public a dramatic increase in amount of football accessible in our own living rooms, perhaps even they did not realise the impact it would come to have on the game all over the world. Now the most watched league in the world, every act of petulance in the Premier League receives equal measures of air time to moments of brilliance and in doing so, we are over-saturated and perhaps over-analyse every single incident.
If your son is screaming at a match official come Sunday morning, there is a very good possibility that he is doing so as he has seen others do it. Children are always on the lookout for role models after all so if it isn’t their own parents on the sidelines setting an example, then Rooney, Terry and Carroll are the next inline when they sit down to their Sunday afternoon viewing each week.
Solutions are always much more difficult to identify that the problems itself, this I understand. However, for the game to make some marked improvement in this area, surely some drastic measures are now required? There have been attempts down the years granted. But have they had any lasting effect? FIFA’s attempt at the ten yard rule by where an official moves a ball ten yards forwards at a free-kick for dissent was reported as discouraging players and showing signs of working when, suddenly in 2005, the games governing body scrapped the ruling much to the bewilderment of the Premiership’s Referee Chief Keith Hackett.
“”It is a disappointing decision because while the law was not used a lot, it did have an impact on the behaviour of players.”
More recently, much emphasis in England has been placed on the Respect Campaign launched by the FA and the Fair Play programme encouraged by FIFA. Reports from the FA’s findings may suggest that dissent is on the decrease and assaults on officials are less frequent than in the past but is it really enough? Surely we should be demanding more? Where better place to start than with the most watched league in the world?
For dissent to really be eradicated from our game, the penalties imposed need to be far greater than they are at present. For this to happen we require an FA with the gumption to act, referees with the determination to dish out such punishments and a league in which all clubs agree to adhere to a new, stricter set of rules, rather than appealing left, right and centre when their star man is found on the sidelines.
In April 2011 Wayne Rooney found himself on the receiving end of a two-game ban for swearing down a camera lens following a hat-trick goal which sealed three points for Manchester United. Whilst it was not dissent directed at a match official, it was an opportunity to see how the Premier League would deal with someone clearly using foul and abusive language safe in the knowledge it would be broadcast to millions.
Now some would say missing two games was punishment enough for Rooney but whilst we may not be able to hear every word spoken on a football pitch, we see numerous incidents every week which would suggest that no one has learnt much from the incident at Upton Park last season. In fact if any lesson was served up back in 2010/11, it was that if you are going to swear, it’s probably best you don’t grab the camera lens prior to mouthing off.
At the start of the article, I raised the issue of Andy Carroll, not out of hatred or even dislike for the man but purely on the basis that he was the last player I saw mouthing off in anger during the Carling Cup Final against Cardiff. On reflection, I could have used Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam and most definitely Craig Bellamy as equally valid examples in that same Liverpool side. The point I make is that it is now widespread.
Some fans pass it off as players showing passion or maybe trying to get a point across but when you are watched by millions, your behaviour must reflect it accordingly.
So I propose the following:
- Instant yellow card for any type of arguing regardless of how colourful the language.
- Instant red card for any obscenities aimed at a match official.
- An automatic five game ban for red cards as a result of obscene language aimed at an official. No appeals allowed by club or player.
- A fine for any player shouting obscenities at a match official. All fines should be a standard percentage of a players earnings and must not be paid by the clubs in question.
- A reintroduction of the ten yard rule, imposed more so than previously done so to punish any type of dissent.
- A published table listing all players who show dissent and as a result how many games each player has missed accordingly through suspension.
Now at first glance you are probably thinking that is a rather harsh set of punishments for exerting expletives in the heat of the moment. However, if correctly imposed, followed-through and administered, I guarantee that 99% of guilty parties will soon learn their lesson and keep a much more watchful eyes on their ranting mouths.
If Wayne Rooney missed ten league games per-season for simply voicing his displeasure at the referees in the middle of the park, I am sure Sir Alex would soon have something to say about his talisman being unavailable for selection whilst Wayne himself may feel the pinch if he continuously has to fork out for the words he chooses to use.
Whether or not such a list of rules would help rid the game of dissent once and for all, nobody knows. But at least it’d make some major inroads into a disease that has now spread way beyond the top flight and finds itself on every football pitch in England.