Players and managers told “Get on with the game”

date: 2011/9/16About the only thing I have in common with any Premier League footballer, apart perhaps for a love of football, is that we both wear on the sleeve of our kit, a small oblong badge. It has just one word on it ‘RESPECT’. To the footballers it probably has no more significance than any of the other logos from sponsors and others that adorn their kit. The Respect programme was launched in 2008, because it was agreed that something needed to be done about the behaviour of players and managers toward referees. The great shortage of qualified referees was becoming a serious issue. But the overwhelming concern from the very beginning was that the programme started at the wrong end, by focusing on the youth game. Players in the local leagues, it was argued, take their lead from the professional players who they see performing regularly on television, if not in person. If they were to set a better example, it is claimed, behaviour at the lower levels would quickly improve. I know from my years in refereeing that anything you see in the professional game will be quickly repeated on the parks, whether it is to the benefit or the detriment of the game. Now it is hoped that this may be rectified. The Premier League has announced a new initiative called Get on with the Game, designed to improve the behaviour of both players and managers towards match officials. It was unanimously agreed by the Chairmen of Premier League clubs, that there should be a crackdown on clearly unacceptable behaviour such as vitriolic abuse toward match officials, the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sent off, (they forgot to tell Joey Barton) and undue criticism where it spills over to questioning the referee’s honesty or his integrity. West Bromwich Albion’s experienced manager, Roy Hodgson, has supported the campaign. ‘Referees,’ he said, ‘are an integral part of the game and sometime we are less kind to them than we should be. We all make mistakes, managers, players and referees. If we don’t behave properly, by letting our emotions run away with us, how can you expect younger people to behave more correctly?’ In some ways this seems to be having an effect, listening to Kenny Dalglish’s guarded comments about his club’s defeat by Stoke. However, he still preferred to blame the referee for giving a penalty against his side instead of his player, Garragher, for quite clearly hauling down an opponent in the penalty area. Also highlighted is the mobbing of referees by players particularly when they are trying to get a referee to alter his decision or to demand cards against opponents. To deter this, Premier League officials have been told to report teams where three or more players surround them. In the professional game, the referees’ feel that one of the best innovations has been the meeting between referees and both captains that happens in the dressing room before the game. One of the objectives of the Respect programme, at every level, is to make captains more influential in the behaviour of their players. This is copied from other main sports like rugby and cricket where captains have a much greater role on the playing field. To have greater effect perhaps it needs to reach the level of cricket, where recently the captain of Essex county cricket club was barred from two matches because of his team’s poor disciplinary record. In the meantime, let’s hope that the club chairmen can impress on their managers to think before they give vent to their feelings and that the players are made to believe the badge on their shirt means something. There can be no doubt the game would be better served if managers and players would stop their bellyaching about officials and ‘Get on with the Game’.

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