We must keep our base instincts at bay

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The Independent Online
BAYING at referees is as futile as baying at the moon and it is staggering how many of us do it. The number of perfectly normal and respectable folk capable of turning into slavering incoherents at the peep of a whistle in football or rugby matches must run into millions but because television allows so many to explode in the privacy of their own homes we will never know the true figure. You would think from the horrified reaction to the recent rash of referee-rousting that this was a new phenomenon but it was ever thus. They were smuggling referees out of grounds in laundry baskets 100 years ago and the only remarkable aspect of this long- simmering relationship between sporting arbiters and the recipients of their judgements is the inadequacies of our defences against the more serious outbreaks.

When we gave football to the world, part of the package was this potential for civil unrest and generally the world has coped in a more realistic fashion. They haven't solved the problem - and many countries have proved far more volatile in their protests - but they have made a far better job of dealing with the effects. They erected fences, dug moats and contrived to get the participants on and off the field out of the range of the crowd.

Fences didn't make their first appearance here until 1967 when some Millwall supporters attacked the referee Norman Burtenshaw as he left the field. The fences were dismantled in an understandable reaction to the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 but, despitethe introduction of all-seater stadiums, some form of barrier between crowd and pitch should have been put back on the agenda after recent events.

The Football Association do not have an impressive record of effective action on crowd control through the years. For too long, the punishment for spectator misbehaviour was mainly confined to fines and the posting of warning notices. Neither did the clubs offer any initiative and most preventative action has been forced on them.

From no direction has there come a wholehearted attempt to educate players and spectators about their attitude to referees. Admittedly, it might take a generation or two to foster a more peaceful acquiescence in refereeing decisions but there are one or two basic truths that might help to edge us towards more tolerance. For a start, the fiercest bout of baying will not change a referee's mind no matter how good it makes the bayers feel. I am certain that there have been instances when a concerted swell of antipathy flowing from the stands has persuaded a referee to make a compensatory decision later on but it doesn't happen often.

It would save much trouble and strife if everyone present accepted that the only reality in a game is what the referee sees. No matter what we see from our vantage points, it is not a goal, it is not a penalty, it is not a foul, unless he says it is. If we could all acknowledge the logic in that approach, the game would be less prone to hysterics. For all the fuss and bother that the crowd can raise, however, the biggest threat to the referee's authority is carried by the players. Whingeing appears to have become an essential part of a professional's craft and they are not likely to be dissuaded when their manager, and sometimes their chairman, join in after the final whistle.

We are in the midst of the one of the strictest seasons for on-field law enforcement. Fifa have demanded it and our referees are eagerly complying in the knowledge that, with more matches being televised than ever before, a lenient tendency will not go unnoticed. When a player of Peter Beardsley's nature collects three bookings in just over half a season it is clear that we are not in tolerant times.

Nottingham Forest last week fined their Dutch international Bryan Roy £5,000 for being booked six times this season, with a resulting two-match ban for the player. His manager, Frank Clark, is angry because four of the cautions were for dissent which, inClark's opinion, "is the daftest offence of all".

Nevertheless, it is the most prevalent, and suggests that players are just not accepting what the referees have been ordered to do. Would it have been beyond the organisational wit of the Premiership, the FA or, indeed, individual clubs to ensure that Fifa's crackdown was emphasised by an explanation relayed over the public address system before every match about what rules were being applied more strictly? This reminder would help, particularly if it reiterates rules such as the automatic dismissal fora deliberate foul on a player who would otherwise have a clear route to goal.

Had such an announcement been made at Ewood Park on Wednesday night it might have saved much of the ensuing trouble. The Blackburn goalkeeper, Tim Flowers, was sent off for that very offence only 72 seconds after the start. Even goalkeepers can remember things for that long. The referee Rodger Gifford had no option but to send Flowers off and the decision set up the evening's grim mood.

It may well be difficult for players to become accustomed to a fiercer application of certain rules but that is not an excuse for anarchy. Rugby league players have been filling the sin-bins while trying to oblige the new tackling crackdown but they are getting the message very rapidly and the game has improved dramatically as a result. If only football's lines of communication were so unequivocal.

Obviously, handing out punishment to a club like Blackburn is not going to solve the underlying worry. Football has a problem of referee appreciation that goes to the very heart of the traditional relationships of the game. We all need a touch of direction, some leadership. The quicker, the better.

THE next Briton to win Wimbledon will receive the highest accolades this country can give. The last man to win it was snubbed and the All-England Club tie that is traditionally presented to the winner was left draped over the back of his dressing-room chair. Fred Perry's death has reminded us not only of his greatness but of the treatment he received at the hands of the tennis authorities.

Because he came from humble origins, he was never accepted by the establishment and when he turned professional after winning that last of his hat-trick of Wimbledon titles in 1936 he was ostracised by the tennis mandarins and declared unwelcome in everytennis club in the country. Not surprisingly, he went to America and became a US citizen. Fifty years later, when the game became open, he was welcomed back. They even built a statue to him at Wimbledon. I often wonder what happened then to the diehardswho had forced him out - perhaps they joined the Rugby Football Union.

IT WAS a pleasure to be at the initiation ceremony of five new Welshmen at Cardiff on Wednesday night. The rugby league players Kelvin Skerrett, Martin Hall, Neil Cowie, Richard Eyres and Paul Atcheson were formally elected as true sons of the Dragon. When you help to beat England you don't need many more credentials. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience and Skerrett, in his broad Yorkshire accent, spoke for them all on Welsh television: "We want to do well for us country," he said.

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