James Corrigan: A dissenting view... how about referees start swearing back at mouthy players?

The Way I See It: The football authorities rumble blithely on, tackling the volleying of verbals with trite campaigns. Has there been a more pathetic initiative than Respect?
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Four Newcastle goals notwithstanding, Arsène Wenger isn't easily shocked. And neither are we. Or so believes this great student of the British people.

"When players say 'eff off' to the referee in front of the camera it doesn't shock you, it doesn't shock anybody," said the Arsenal manager last week.

Well, actually it does shock me. Every single effing time. It shocks me that the FA does nothing about it; it shocks me that TV does nothing; it shocks me that intelligent men like Wenger do nothing. But what shocks me most is that referees do nothing.

Who are these people? Have they no self-respect? There are self-doubting traffic wardens on medication who wouldn't stand for it. There are even a few banking CEOs who wouldn't stand for it. Yet referees seemingly regard it as an occupational hazard. They treat personal affronts rather like a nursery teacher treats puke over their cardigan. Comes with the territory with those little blighters.

In fact, so inured is the man in black to the words in blue, Lee Mason probably didn't think last week's Arsenal-Everton collision to be anything out of the ordinary.

Legend – and who knows, a few lawyers' files – already has it that the Goodison gaffer claims to have heard Cesc Fabregas, that curious concoction of Johan Cruyff and Robbie Savage, accusing Mason of taking a bribe. Legend – and, who knows, a thousand lawyers' files – also has it that Wenger has basically called Moyes a liar and concluded that if his captain really had uttered such a thing, Mason would have featured it in his match report.

Erm, right. Thank you, Rumpole. The likelihood is Mason's inquest consisted of the following. "Nice day at work, darling?" "Oh, same old, same old. Forty thousand sang about me being a wanker, six players told me to eff off and one of them then informed me I'd been paid by the opposite team. Bill's got a lovely new flag, though."

The very least they should do is respond in kind. In the Sixties there was actually a ref who dared curse back at the players. A couple of sensitive pros went to a football journalist to reveal this outrage. Apparently they'd shout at him, "Oi, ref that wasn't an effing foul" and he'd reply, "yes, it effing was. Now, pipe down you effing turdhead." When the story was printed, the ref sued the newspaper and won. His professional pride had been slighted.

It hadn't. It had actually been improved. He'd shown the guts to stick up for himself and, if only he'd realised, then over the next four decades his species might not have evolved into a timid creature more terrorised than the red squirrel. As it stands right now there is only one insult to which they are prone to retaliate: the dreaded C word.

No, not the one that Graham Poll used to come over all Churchill about – "Squire, question my parentage if you must, but never, NEVER call me a cheat." But the other one which will forever satisfy any abuser the most.

Harry Redknapp likes to recount a tale about a certain Paolo Di Canio dismissal. (Redknapp uses the spelt-out version, and Di Canio definitely did, but I can't bring myself to type it.) "Ref, if I called you a c-word, would you send me off?" "Without question, Paolo." "How about if I just thought you were a c-word?" "Well, no, Paolo, I couldn't do anything then." "Therefore I think you're a c-word."

It is a well-worn joke, which suffers not just for being apocryphal, but more so for being unrealistic. The worst Di Canio would ever have seen was a yellow card. One only needs to listen to Wenger's treatise to understand that.

So how to arrest this slaughtering of the sensibilities then? The problem is the inequality between player and referee is so ingrained in the game's DNA it is pointless trying to effect a culture shift. Certainly, evoking the example of other sports is as futile as cough mixture. They are all becoming increasingly like football, not vice versa.

Rugby union players have noticeably become more confrontational – "only the older ones address me as 'sir' now," one of their number told me recently – while even golf, that great paragon of sportsmanship, has seen an upsurge in clashes with authority. Ian Poulter was fined for launching an F-bomb in the direction of a volunteer marshal who had the temerity to lose track of his ball; Colin Montgomerie had an altercation with a storm-trooper who had the temerity to undertake some crowd control. They're not all Padraig Harrington.

That's not to say golf will ever end up in the situation where Tiger Woods is screaming "eff you" across the fairway at a rules official denying him a free drop from casual water. That is football's scenario and will remain so until they eventually stumble across the solution.

Everyone says they should have more refs on the pitch to help with those so-called "big decisions". Maybe, but strength in numbers would also give the ref some much-needed protection and confidence. If you take the limelight off one man, the abuse would be less personal. As in gridiron, as in ice hockey, the rules would be the rules; the penalties would be the penalties. Technology would also help in removing the temptation to ridicule the arbiter's human frailty.

But the football authorities rumble blithely on, tackling the volleying of the verbals with their trite campaigns. Has there ever been a more pathetic initiative than "Respect", the FA's grand plan to stop the conflict? Three years on and it has only served to make the war even more one-sided. But then, the FA has only remained true to the song of the same name. Otis Redding originally wrote it as a man's plea for respect from a woman. Never happened.



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