The FA’s ‘Respect’ campaign, when it began in 2008, was, of course, well intentioned. But I said at the time that its design was fatally flawed and subsequent events have done little to dispel that impression.
The flaw was that it concentrated on the grass roots while ignoring the argument that behaviour there is conditioned by what people see happening on television and in the stadiums of the Premier and other Leagues. When a child – or any other impressionable person – sees a famous player or manager being aggressive or rude towards a match official, he – or, I suppose, she – is more liable to lose control. It is human nature.
Yet the FA, in the wisdom of whichever consultants were employed, decided to impose discipline from the bottom up instead of the top down, when what was needed was force in both directions at the same time. Roped-off areas were all very well but of limited relevance when the example being fed into the minds of participants and their parents – head-to-head contact, the haranguing of referees who meekly accept foul language and even the odd jostle – was so often sending a less helpful message.
Bad parents are, of course, the main problem. My friends at the Middlesex Referees Association have written to add to the mounting anecdotal evidence of a level of violence – threatened or actual, from pitch or sidelines – that suggests the supply of young match officials may eventually run out. Apart from anything else, referees and their assistants are entitled to enjoy their football as much as anyone, without the fear of a repetition of what happened in Holland four years ago.
Then, a 41-year-old assistant referee was punched and kicked to death by several teenagers and a father. The man was later sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter. The teenagers were ordered to spend much shorter spells in detention. My printable opinion of those punishments is that the agony of the victim’s friends and family can only have been prolonged. It must never happen here and the open letter to that effect which has been sent to departing FA head Greg Dyke by our very own Keith Hackett deserves universal support.
PS: I always enjoy the work of Tim Vickery, whose piece about ‘technology’ appeared here on February 25, and this was no exception. But his concerns about video assistance for match officials being available only to those operating in the richer leagues are, in my view, misplaced. The only ‘technology’ required anywhere is a television set – and those are affordable in all leagues which are televised. No one else needs any equipment at all. Nothing complicated is called for anywhere, even in the super-rich Champions League or World Cup. So can we please get on with it?