We might have to let soccer speak for itself

Following the latest unsavoury allegation of racism on the football field, it has been proposed that all referees should be “mic’d”, so we can all hear what is being said, by whom and to whom. My considerable experience of attending football matches, both league and non-league, leads me to shudder at the thought.

I appreciate this practice of “micing” the referee already happens in rugby games but, I’m afraid to say, a completely different culture pervades the world of football, a world in which all match officials are subjected to vitriol and hateful abuse from the beginning of the match to the end, from players, coaches and supporters. Every decision that a referee or assistant makes is usually met with howls of demented protest from all corners of the ground. As players roll around on the turf, pretending they have been mercilessly poleaxed, the officials have to decide within an instant if that player is genuinely suffering or is play-acting. (It is usually the latter.) They have a nigh on impossible job. It all feeds a cauldron of hostility, which no-one seems to want to address.

People have said to me that the reason why rugby players behave so much more respectfully on the field of play is because most of them are from posh schools. Nonsense. What about rugby league, the quintessential working man’s game? This sport is played in a very respectful, disciplined manner. All the referees are “mic’d”; we can hear the players calling the referee “sir” and obeying all his decisions without dispute or hesitation. Football is atrocious in this regard simply because the FA has done nothing to address the rudeness, the cheating and the double standards which emanate from many of the players (and their coaches).

Some of these footballers ought to be ashamed of their puerile, pathetic, selfish behaviour and go and hide themselves in a darkened corner until they have matured into proper adults, capable of manifesting mature restraint and respect. In 30 years of teaching I have never witnessed such appalling behaviour amongst my pupils as that which I often witness on a Saturday afternoon live or later in the day on TV.

We have to do something and, as uncomfortable as it would be, perhaps listening to exactly what passes between players and officials at football games might shock us once and for all into accepting the fact that mutual respect is largely absent from the modern game (despite players shaking hands at the start of each match). Unless we rectify the present appalling situation, in 10 years’ time we might have a drastic shortage of, by and large, real gentlemen prepared to sacrifice their weekends to referee, only to be constantly insulted, abused and vilified.

Forget a British club following Chelsea in winning the European Cup – British clubs leading European football in terms of civilised, respectful, well mannered behaviour on the field of play would be a far better prize to celebrate. Some hope.

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