A split in football is evident in the growing anger of managers and the refusal of the authorities to budge from official policy

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Jim Farry, who is the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, has declared that the resignation of the referee, Jim McGilvray, on the grounds that he is no longer prepared to be a "robot with a whistle", does not amount to a crisis. The gentleman is mistaken.

If McGilvray's despair with instructions that required him to book Paul Gascoigne for whooping it up after scoring against Partick Thistle fails to register with Farry as an issue of considerable importance, he ought not to be in a position of authority.

Personally, I find the choreographed, television-inspired jollifications footballers indulge in today irritatingly childish, but that is not the heart of the matter. It can be found in the provocative and, to my mind, quite ludicrous determination of administrators in British football to put the letter of the law above common sense. If this relates to preserving historical status as law shapers, enjoyed by the four home associations through majority on the International Board, it is shameful.

One official stated pompously the other day that the clubs, by which he meant players, managers and coaches, are simply objecting to the laws. Wrong. What disturbs them is inconsistency and decisions as bizarre as the penalty kick Manchester United were awarded against Manchester City at Old Trafford last week in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Technically, the referee, Alan Wilkie was correct in calling an infringement, when Michael Frontzeck threw an arm around Eric Cantona as they jostled for position at a corner kick. But, as Jimmy Hill stated on television, if all referees reacted in a similar fashion to such incidents, there would be 10 penalties every game. Hill's fellow pundit, the former Liverpool defender, Alan Hansen, thought the decision disgraceful.

It does not take much in the way of perception to realise that there has occurred a split, what intellectuals call a dichotomy, in football. It is evident in the growing anger of managers, the frustration of players and the obdurate refusal of the authorities to budge from official policy.

Under close scrutiny, even the most sensible referees are obliged to rule by the book and not with their brains. Unquestionably, to my mind, this goes back to the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States when a policy designed to protect gifted players resulted in ridiculous dismissals - and less in the way of entertainment than a lot of people imagined.

Certainly, there was a case for outlawing assaults on the calves and heels of attackers, but an interesting thing is that the letter of the law, or should I say interpretation, is being applied more vigorously in British football than anywhere else.

Recently, a full-back in the Premier League was sent off for bringing down an opponent he could not have possibly seen when first stretching out for the ball. "There is no longer any justice," said his manager.

Commenting on the incident at Old Trafford, the former international referee, Clive Thomas, who was never slow on the draw when it came to handing out cautions, declared that, if at work today, he would not last three months on the list.

Since nobody has ever considered Ray Wilkins cynical, and even allowing for a difficult season, to find his club Queen's Park Rangers with 58 bookings, three sendings-off and threatened by a hefty fine is disturbing.

Rather than a calamitous decline in behaviour and refereeing standards, it speaks of a serious breakdown in communication and misguided principles. It is effecting the development of players, too. Many of the defensive errors we see result from players attempting to compensate for the fear of being booked when making slightly mistimed tackles.

An escalating problem is actually made clearer by televised visits to past eras in football. To a man, old heroes testify to the hardness they endured. Bookings were rare, sendings off a sensation. In the main, referees settled for a firm word and even took part in banter. It was not a perfect system, but better.

Now it seems everybody goes into the book for something or other. A serious probability is that, if Sir Stanley Matthews was playing today, even his unblemished reputation would be at risk.

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