Is the Premier League responsible for the lack of respect towards referees at all levels of our game?

Referees are one of the most integral parts of Football, they control matches by keeping order and making those important decisions no one else wants to make. So why is there so much contempt from so many towards them and at all levels of the game?

For the fans the ref has and will always be a Panto villain waving cards around and pointing to penalty spots whilst the crowd sing “you don’t know what you’re doing” (and other songs of that type). But this scorn for the referee and the job they have to do should never be replicated by managers and players.

Persecuting referees in the game is a regular occurrence and this Christmas period in the Premier League has been no exception with several top flight managers publicly berating ref’s decisions. Mourinho, Allardyce and Warnock before his dismissal, have all been public with their condemnation of their respective referee’s performances. This consistent lack of respect by high profile people in the game surely filters down through the leagues and into grassroots football.

The media exposure given to this merely confounds the situation giving the behaviour an air of acceptability.  What BT Sport attempted with having an ex-referee as a pundit was a real positive but didn’t last and wasn’t unfortunately replicated by other channels.

In the Premier League referees have unfortunately become the perfect scapegoat for under pressure managers to detract from their own performance. Any level headed person can understand that decisions can go either way during a game, ninety minutes is a long time to be dwelling on one decision. Paul Lambert recently made a post-match comment about a referee’s performance but was refreshingly more balanced in his reflection of Fabian Delph’s sending off against Sunderland. He said “Fabian hasn’t gone in maliciously at all. I can kind of understand why the referee’s done it, but I still think it’s excessive”. Being disappointed is only natural but understanding the job the ref has to do is imperative.

Managers just like players need clear boundaries for dissent towards referees. Jose Mourinho’s 10k fine for his sarcastic appraisal at Sunderland earlier in the year obviously hasn’t had the desired affect therefore the sanctions need to be reassessed.

I think empathy is the key to giving managers a different approach towards analysing a referee’s performance. It’s amazing how many ‘football people’ have never officiated a match regardless of the level. Instead of a vacuous financial punishment maybe managers should be made to referee one or even several academy games, depending on how serious the offence is. Making split second decisions in a pressurised situation would surely give them more respect for the match officials.

There also doesn’t appear to be any ex-professional footballers refereeing in the Football League or Premier League and none that I can ever remember. This only reinforces the ‘us against them’ bias that exists amongst players and managers.

The FA’s Laws of the Game state that both ‘unsporting behaviour’ and ‘dissent by word or action’ is a cautionable offence and ‘using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gesture’ is a sending off offence. This seems to only be initiated between players and very rarely does a referee use the rules to protect themselves.  I’ve seen yellow cards given but cannot remember the last red I saw for dissent. This is why we see players from every team surround the ref after an important decision, also verbally and occasionally physically abusing them because there doesn’t seem to be any consequences for their actions.

Maybe a rule needs to be added to these laws to express simply that no player is allowed to argue with any of the referee’s decisions. Essentially why is this acceptable and why is it allowed? Players constantly arguing with a referee just undermines the whole reason they exist and brings down the boundaries needed to referee a game properly.

If these rules were adhered to consistently by all referees in the Premier League then consequently they’d be a reaction as players would be sent off in greater numbers but that would only need to be in the beginning as the new ethos is established. Thereafter players would be conscious of the consequences, like with tackles from behind, and as a result become more disciplined.

This poor example currently set at the top flight of football is replicated at amateur level too and has a negative affect on grassroots football. Whilst working as a College Sports Coordinator I dreaded having to referee matches because I knew the hassle I’d get. I had to cancel one five aside tournament because of player’s poor behaviour and as an amateur player I witnessed a referee being chased by opposition players and the manager after a close fought cup tie.

Can we simply blame it on football culture? I don’t think so, I think the poor treatment of referees has been accepted in football for too long and the change needs to start with an example being set at the top.

For me the ‘rugby’s a gentleman’s sport’ argument I hear so often doesn’t stand up because it doesn’t compare to football in terms of numbers. Having nearly two million people participating in football each week and having almost half the nation as fans means that football will always have more issues to deal with. However I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the respect for the referee’s and their decisions is demonstrated at the top flight of both Rugby Union and League, and in turn filtering down the leagues all the way to the grassroots.

It’s the job of the Premier League to demonstrate zero tolerance for dissent towards referees, they are the starting point because they have the most exposure. Only when players in the Premier League stop arguing with their decisions and managers stop berating them in emotive post-match interviews will attitudes change towards the job of a referee, and it will be for the benefit of us all.

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