James Corrigan: Impossible to respect the FA's absurd crusade

The Last Word
Click to follow
The Independent Online

One grown man chucks a coin at another grown man, that grown man hurls it back with interest and other grown men around the country reel off the clichés about the beautiful game turning ugly. And in the background the Football Association's Respect campaign slips ever further into its inevitable irrelevance, uprooting a few ironic headlines on its descent.

This well-meaning but essentiallynumbskulled scheme was brought in by the FA to "ensure a safe, positive environment for everyone to enjoy football". All it was ever destined to do is to ensure that the dangerous, negative environment in which only the testosterone-charged can possibly enjoy football became even more noticeable to the non-paying public. But then, before you can have "respect" for anything you need to know its meaning; and the protagonists in this merry drama don't.

Take Paul Jewell. The Derby manager probably thought he was merelyrepeating a truism when speaking up for his profession's increasing frustration with referees. "Respect must be earned," said Jewell, with devastating finality. Except it doesn't. "Trust" may well have to be earned, as may "admiration", but "respect" does not have to be, and in certain parts of life damned well shouldn't be, earned. One of these is clearly authority. When it comes to refs, like policemen, like immigration officers, respect must be taken as a given. Or should the FA tell the kids in the park that they "must" respect the ref, but only after he has earned that respect (i.e. when he has made a decision that they are particularly pleased about)?

Sure, dislike, loathe them, mutter about their cock-ups, but extend them the courtesy of abiding by their decisions. That is what "respect" means, or at least that is what the FA should believe it means.

Over to Jewell again, who actually wanted to put the message out that one or two of his managerial colleagues were thinking of pulling out of the Respect campaign. So what would they be trying to say here? Do they honestly want those same kids in the park seeing them withdrawing their agreement to "respect" referees?

In fairness, probably all Jewell meant was that the campaign is a nonsense, and unwittingly he is bang on. However, it is not a nonsense because of Jewell's opposition to the hypocrisy of managers being expected not to bad-mouth the whistle-blowers while the whistle-blowers continue to make erroneous decisions that help managers lose their jobs. No, it is a nonsense because of its very formation. In their paranoid anxiety to be seen to be doing the right thing, the FA have done exactly the wrong thing. They have extended the managers anotherreason to bleat, coughed up yet more oxygen for their negativity.

Not that some of this curious breed need it. Joe Kinnear is an odd cove, a man with such a complex moral code that it would need the Cyborg offspring of Miss Marple and the Enigmamachine to crack it. When he is feeling vulnerable he breaks several cursing records in berating journalists "for undermining my position", "ridiculing me" and, worse, for doing it when "I'm defenceless and I can't get a point in and I can't say nothing and I can't do nothing". And then, after a few results have gone his way, he undermines an official's position with a Mickey Mouse comparison designed to ridicule. And where's Martin Atkinson's comeback in all of this? Oh for Mr Atkinson to barge into a press conference and say: "Right, which one is Joe Kinnear?" "I am". "You're a cunt". Do you think Joe's next words would be "Thank you"?

Who knows, they might be, as in that instant he could earn respect, but that must be deemed unlikely, despite Kinnear's intention to apologise. A man who has been in football as long as Joe could never wholeheartedly "respect" a referee, as everything in the game's culture has instructed him to do otherwise. Indeed, the distrust and yes, disrespect of the poor sap in charge is the common bond between Didier Drogba and the fan who hit him with his missile on Wednesday night. It probably linked Drogba with the supporter he in turn hit with his retaliatory throw. In truth, this common aversion, however deeply rooted,links almost everyone who attends a professional football match; from the commentators in the radio booth to the stewards on the terraces.

The FA will not change that with some say-little, do-nothing crusade. Punishments, bans, fines, deterrents. If the buggers don't possess it anyway, then respect must be enforced.

Comments