Leading article: Drawing the line

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The Independent Online

Behaviour that would never be tolerated in any other sport has long been commonplace on the football field, with managers clearly untroubled by players who abuse referees, and the authorities seemingly unwilling to crack down on it. Now, at last, the point has been reached at which football, although not entirely as one, is saying, "enough is enough".

The extent of the challenge was demonstrated on Sunday. In an incident that was typical of many, Liverpool's Javier Mascherano was sent off for dissent during the match against Manchester United. As it happened, the Football Association had just launched a campaign for players to show referees more respect.

In a season in which the former England international Sol Campbell has spoken out about the abuse that players routinely receive from spectators, it is clear that a kind of road-rage culture runs deep in football. Managers do not help by their readiness to berate officialdom. Most troubling of all is the way the trend has filtered all the way down to junior levels. The pressures of the modern professional game – the money, the competitiveness, the constant swirl of hype that surrounds it – cannot be cited as an excuse.

The players' union chief, Gordon Taylor, yesterday called for referees to be made a "no-go area". It would be good to see that happen, and Mr Taylor deserves the backing of everyone involved in the game. A more realistic approach, however, might be to allow the two captains, but no other players, to speak to the referee.

A line needs to be drawn clearly and decisively. Rugby does not have this problem, and football does not need to have it either.