Northern League tackles offensive language

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The Independent Football

Teams such as Darlington Railway Athletic, Horden Colliery Welfare and Billingham Synthonia continue to evoke the era when men toiled in pit and factory all week before donning a pair of baggy shorts for a Saturday afternoon kick-about.

But Britain's second-oldest football league is launching a new strategy to stamp out the last vestiges of industrial language on the field of play.

The Northern League, founded in 1889 for teams across the North-east and Cumbria, is to introduce "secret shoppers" to spy on officials and players who swear during games.

League chairman Mike Amos said the touchline monitors would help to stamp out foul language and help to promote matches as a family day out. He added that a new £200,000 sponsorship deal could offer financial inducements for those who keep it clean as well as publishing a league table of the worst offenders.

He said: "If you go to a Premier League game with 50,000 people there and the players and management are effing and blinding, you can't hear it, and so in a sense, it doesn't matter. But if you are at a game with 100 people in the ground, you can hear.

"There are still people in 2012 who do not like swearing, and it can be heard all over the ground. People say to me, 'It's a passionate game,' and it is, but it is also a disciplined game."

The move has gone down badly with some clubs. Sunderland RCA secretary Colin Wilson said that appointing secret shoppers was not "open and transparent", while representatives from other clubs, including North Shields, said they did not want people "snooping around their grounds".

A previous attempt to tackle swearing by introducing a zero-tolerance policy failed to win the governing body's backing, after it was initially praised by the FA.

The league, which has a long-standing reputation for toughness and matches played in appalling weather conditions, originally included both professional and amateur clubs.

After 1906, it was restricted to amateurs only – though the practice of illicit payments to top players continued long afterwards.

Former clubs include Newcastle United and Middlesbrough, while Brian Clough, Bob Paisley and Chris Waddle all cut their teeth as players in the league. However, perhaps the greatest achievement of modern times was Blyth Spartans' march to a fifth-round FA Cup replay in 1978.

Mr Amos said the FA was too timid to tackle the problem while referees rarely exercised the powers they had to send players or managers off for bad language.

"If they are swearing like that on a main street on a Friday night they would be arrested, so what makes it acceptable at a ground?" he said.