The Youdan Trophy is a great modern example of how referee and youth development can go hand in hand, but I don’t think youth coaches should be let off the hook as easily as they are throughout the game in this country generally.
It should be a part of every youth coach’s remit to make things easier for referees in my opinion, and far too many fall back on the excuse that results are the be-all and end-all while those under their care only develop bad habits which they take with them into our professional leagues.
It’s only now I look back that I realise how lucky I was when it came to the men who shaped my career from the dug-out and the training pitch.
I arrived at Crewe Alexandra in my teens as a proper moaner. And Dario Gradi, to his eternal credit, just wouldn’t have it. He used to actually stop sessions on a daily basis and shame me by saying, “OK, lads let’s all stop and listen to Danny and his latest moan-up!”
That cured me to a great extent, and the way he clamped down on back-chat and grandstanding tackles in innocuous midfield positions where a rousing reaction from your own fans came at the expense of a yellow, stuck with us all. We won the Fair-Play award every year under Dario, it was not even close.
I now realise I was blessed with coaches who deliberately recruited players intelligent enough to listen to their appeals for discipline purely on the basis of common sense and results.
Gerard Houllier was my boss for five years at Anfield and, throughout that time, our record, home and away, against Everton was outstanding, just look it up if you like!
His tolerance for anyone jeopardising our chances through ill-discipline was extremely low and I remember one win over champions Manchester United when, rather than praise all the lads, he laid into me instead for having seen red for a lunge and leaving us with ten men defending our lead for the last 20 minutes.
But it was Everton I wanted to focus on, because simply by following his instructions we won virtually every game against them. He would tell us to stay calm, and at some point they would lose it for themselves, a trend which usually included at least one red card. He was dead right.
My last red card was the perfect example of finally learning my own lesson, even if it was towards the end of my career. I really was that furious with myself for my stoppage-time dismissal out in the Ukraine during Fulham’s Europa League run of 2010.
Angry as I was at myself, I was fully expecting a fine and worse when I went in to see manager Roy Hodgson back in London, who himself had ended up on the pitch protesting a tackle by Donetsk’s Ilsinho on Damien Duff.
Typical of the man, and probably what Gradi and Houllier might well have done as well when I stop and think about it, not quite in so many words he said: “How can I fine you after the way I behaved out there? What kind of example was I setting for my players?”
Believe it or not, his message came through louder and clearer than if he had thrown the book at me and I was never sent off again.