It’s one of the most expensive games of football to lose, with the winners being awarded an estimated extra £120m next season. So when emotions in the Championship play-off final get frayed, can players be justified when they resort to swearing at officials?
In rugby union’s Premiership final on Saturday, the biggest game of the domestic calendar, the Northampton captain Dylan Hartley was sent off for calling the referee a “f***ing cheat ”. Hartley has been banned for 11 weeks, forcing him to miss the British Lions tour to Australia – the pinnacle of most players’ careers. (Yes, the “cheat” part of this is probably worse, but if another “c” word had been used, the punishment would likely have been just as severe.)
Most footballers will wince at this penalty, deeming it ridiculously harsh, but it is the very essence of respect on which the game of rugby union is built – the “game for thugs, played by gentlemen”.
An email yesterday from Will, a 21-year-old teacher, asked why football did not follow the example of rugby union. Will’s six- and seven-year-old pupils copy their idols, who are repeatedly seen swearing at refs on TV. “Surely the role models to so many of today’s children will learn after a few red cards,” he added. I’ll pass that one on to those more experienced in the round-ball game, because I can’t answer it. Swearing has apparently become an accepted part of football, and until the FA or UEFA tackle it, it will remain that way. There is barely a game when players do not surround the referee, questioning a decision or hurling abuse. But what are we to expect? After all, it is a “game for gentlemen played by thugs”.