Tune into any Premier League football game and within moments it will become apparent the FA’s Respect campaign still has a long way to go. Players are frequently seen berating, mobbing, and abusing officials and this often goes unpunished.
The ubiquity of dissent in the game and referees’ unwillingness to clamp down on it have led to it becoming part of the game, and referees at all levels have come to accept it as an occupational hazard.
Yet the FA continue to insist that their initiative is having a palliative effect, quoting a 16 per cent decrease in dissent across England’s professional leagues since 2008-9.
Even if we assume this figure is accurate – if it is even possible to quantify such a thing – it constitutes a reduction of less than one sixth and to the naked eye it would appear that nothing has changed.
Today the FA won their appeal to have Wayne Rooney’s three match international ban reduced to two, making him available for the potentially crucial final group game against Ukraine. This will come as welcome news to England fans, but it is widely agreed that Rooney deserved his red card and subsequent ban for violent conduct.
An FA spokesperson said the Respect campaign had nothing to do with Uefa who ‘operate a different process to the FA in relation to red card offences’ and denied that the decision to appeal Rooney’s ban went against the spirit of the game. But their appeal against a just ruling and proportionate sentence undermines the authority of the referee who dismissed him and risks sending the message to aspiring young footballers that if you’re a good enough player, the rules do not apply.
These are sentiments shared by Kenny Dalglish who feels the FA fast-tracked Rooney’s appeal at the expense of Luis Suarez’s hearing for alleged racism.
What about the state of grassroots football? The FA website quotes a 15 per cent fall in the most serious assault cases but concedes a 25 per cent rise in ‘incidences of improper conduct towards referees’ though ‘some of this will reflect the increased number of match officials and reports being submitted’.
Junior football referee of 15 years John Rogers said: “as soon as you put on that kit, you change from a human being into a figure of abuse. The dissent can be constant, not just major decisions but every throw-in, every shoulder barge. Some managers do a good job of controlling their supporters, but they are the exception to the rule.
“Youth football is particularly bad. Sometimes when I’ve made a contentious decision I know as soon as I blow up I’ll be ambushed by dissenting parents. I’ve been threatened on several occasions and I was assaulted once. There’s no respect.
“The FA responded with a statement saying ‘evidence (both statistical and anecdotal across the grassroots game shows that the Respect campaign is working. Three years ago incidents of poor spectator behaviour from parents and adults was sadly a fairly common occurrence in youth football. However, through the FA’s Respect campaign many youth leagues have witnessed an improvement.”