Mark Steel: Let's kick hypocrisy out of football

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Wayne Rooney seemed like such a polite young man that who would have guessed he'd be the type to use a swear word at a time of high emotion? So naturally for three days the incident dominated the news and the radio phone-ins, and millions of people are apparently shocked because he's a role model, so let's at least hope he doesn't use that sort of language when the prostitutes are round, because goodness knows what they'd think.

Newspapers have been full of columnists writing articles such as "I have many differences with Robert Mugabe, but give him his due, at least he doesn't swear into television cameras." And you expected the news to begin, "Colonel Gaddafi and Nato have agreed to hold a minute's silence before today's battles on the road to Benghazi, in response to what they described as 'the very disturbing images' of the striker's outburst."

Others have seen the incident as a symbol of declining standards. Because although there were no microphones to pick up footballers' comments in the 1950s, we can be certain they spoke at all times in a Pathé News accent. So even when they went out at night, they'd say, "It's 9.15 and it looks as if the evening has come to an end. But what's this? Tommy 'Pickles' Dempsey pops up with a late pint of light and bitter to prolong the festivities. So it's 'Bottoms up' for well-earned refreshment all round."

What the outrage has missed is that football's standards of behaviour HAVE declined, but it's little to do with swearing. For example, it's now customary for every post-match interview with a losing manager to go something like, "Well, I know I'll get into trouble for saying this, but that referee has cost us the game. Obviously I respect the officials, but that blind ignorant twat needs to be kicked senseless and dumped in a canal for his performance today. But if I set fire to his house, then it's ME that gets in trouble."

Every refereeing decision provokes 15 minutes of jostling, and after any free-kick against their team the manager runs down the touchline waving his arms in such a way you think they must be screaming: "I've just been informed by the Army there's a prehistoric monster on the loose."

But the reason this happens now is because for some clubs these tactics work. Ex-referee Graham Poll explained recently how in one game a referee declined to send Rooney off, because he was hoping to be selected for a big match in which Manchester United were playing, and if United manager Alex Ferguson complained, that would affect his chances. Similar thoughts must go through the minds of referees when they're taking part in a match with the biggest clubs, who dominate the finances of the game.

Similarly, most commentators agree it would be impossible to curb the behaviour of players or managers because the Premier League would object. So football appears to reflect the financial arrogance of the times, in which the richest feel any rules restricting their behaviour are an affront to their right to do as they please.

Soon the wealthiest clubs will demand deregulation, so they can buy a poorer team's corners and free-kicks. And Blackpool will announce "Chelsea have made an offer for three of our penalties, and given our financial situation we have no choice but to sell to survive." If Carlos Tevez is booked for a foul, his agent will run on and tell the referee it would be sheer folly to try to penalise him, as he'll respond by taking his tackles out of the country, and in any case the two-footed lunge was registered in his wife's name so he's not liable. And when there is an outcry about a player's behaviour, the League run by oligarchs, billionaires and oil barons will say ,"It seems a footballer has been using his position irresponsibly. Where DOES he get it from?"

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