Officials must embrace the battle against dissent

Match officials in England have been encouraged to send players off for particular displays of dissent, and they must not waste this opportunity.

The general consensus is that you would have to be mad to be a referee. We want to be the stars of the show; on the ball, scoring goals, receiving the adulation of thousands of supporters.

To be a referee requires an element of masochism. More often than not they are the villains, not the stars, of the show. They’re not on the ball, they don’t score goals, and the only attention they receive from the thousands of supporters is in the shape of mouthfuls of aggressive abuse.

The role of the men in black (or nowadays often pink or green or yellow) is now scrutinized more than ever before. TV replays are offered at every angle, slowed down to a millisecond and zoomed in to a millimetre.

Football is allowed to be viewed in black and white terms all too often. The vast areas of grey are either forgotten or conveniently ignored.

Just as master tacticians and maestro players ultimately cannot plan for every eventuality of what occurs over the 90 minutes of spontaneous, random actions of 22 men, a referee cannot be expected to observe all of these actions without making a mistake – especially when many players will actively attempt to con them.

And yet an attitude of acceptable contempt towards officials has gradually developed, getting increasingly nasty and reprehensible. A referee does not react to a defender who commits a stupid handball to concede a penalty by screaming, shouting, and swearing in the defender’s face, but suddenly any questionable call from an official is met by a barrage of castigation.

Last season this culminated in Jamie Vardy’s foul-mouthed tirade against Jon Moss after the striker was caught diving, while Chelsea’s clash with Tottenham veered towards farce as both sets of players tried to kick lumps out of each other before blaming Mark Clattenburg for their own behaviour.

Chelsea Tottenham

Despite this regression in professional standards, not one player has been sent off in the Premier League for insulting or abusive language towards a match official in the last five seasons.

This has led to the FA, in conjunction with the Premier League and English Football League, to issue directives encouraging officials to brandish yellow cards at any sign of dissent, and to even send players off in certain circumstances such as confrontational physical contact.

It must be said that sanctions have been in place for referees to use whenever players produced such actions. Both David Beckham and Wayne Rooney were infamously shown second yellow cards for sarcastically applauding decisions in 2005.

However, far too often such actions – and far worse – have gone unpunished, allowing further ugly marks on the beautiful game.

The new directives urge officials to be much stronger with their punishment, and the responsibility is now on them to strictly enforce the changes. If that leaves to a raft of dismissals in the opening weeks of the season then so be it, players will be forced to learn and adapt quickly.

Should referees be concerned about appearing too belligerent in their use of punishment, they should look no further than rugby, where in both codes of the game officials have long been happy to put players in their place to ensure they retain respect and authority.

In 2013, Dylan Hartley was sent off in the Premiership final for his abusive language towards referee Wayne Barnes. The resulting 11-week suspension kept the hooker out of the prestigious British and Irish Lions’ tour of Australia.

Dylan Hartley red card

Hartley now captains England and has earned plaudits for the way he has now learned to keep his discipline. He may have learned his lesson the hard way, but he also learned it for the thousands of children who will have watched the showpiece event, many of whom will have looked up towards him as a role model.

Furthermore, as previously mentioned, far too much coverage and credence is given to the performances of officials, offering underachieving players and managers an easy excuse.

Good teams manage to win whatever the circumstances, whether that be the weather, disrupted travel, or a questionable decision from a linesman. Hopefully teams will now focus on their own shortcomings rather than blame the easy target.

It’s time for us to support the man in the middle now. After all, they’e doing the job none of us want to do.

Article by Rob Conlon

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