Joe Kinnear, one suspects, has been out of football for too long. If he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have been as completely unaware of the FA’s much publicised “Respect” campaign, and could have save himself a journey from Newcastle down to Soho Square to answer some questions that the FA might have to ask him about the comments that he made about referee Martin Atkinson after their defeat at Fulham on Sunday. He described Atkinson as “a Mickey Mouse referee”, after Atkinson failed to award a free kick to Newcastle shortly before awarding a penalty to Fulham which Danny Murphy converted to send all three points to Craven Cottage. Never mind the fact that Atkinson (who, presumably doesn’t have the gift of being able to see thirty seconds into the future) couldn’t possibly have predicted that not awarding said free kick would inevitably lead to Newcastle’s defence deciding to scythe down Andy Johnson as he ran into the penalty area. It happened to Joe, so Joe is angry about it.
The decision gave Joe the perfect opportunity to deflect any criticism away from himself and his team for a largely anaemic performance in this match. It’s not the first time that Joe has done this in his few weeks in charge at St James Park. After their match against Manchester City, he stated that, “There’s always a smart answer like ‘someone was obstructing my view'”, which isn’t stopping far short of calling the referee a cheat. He’s not the only one to have done this. Roy Keane is also facing a charge, following comments that he made to Atkinson at half-time during Sunderland’s recent thrashing at Chelsea. Perhaps they could share a car down to London.
It’s difficult to say what has been more surprising – the FA’s decision to toughen up disciplinary problems that had long ago spiralled out of control, or the fact that it has taken as long as three months for the wheels to start to fall off this particular wagon. A culture has been allowed to build in English football whereby nothing that ever happens is the fault of the individuals concerned. If a football club loses a match, it is only very seldom that you will hear a manager taking responsibility for his club’s performance, especially if there is a straw to grasp at with regards to the referee’s performance. Ultimately, greed and survival are the only instincts that anyone in the Premier League seems to understand, and the Respect campaign now seems likely to falter because there isn’t actually a groundswell of opinion that actually wants referees to be treated with any respect. Managers, players seem to be pretty happy with the current status quo. It suits all three of these groups very conveniently. Managers and players get a scapegoat for their shortcomings, and supporters get an ogrish figure that they can talk about in pubs as if they are somehow subhuman.
If it serious about promoting a culture of respect within the modern game, the FA needs to come down hard on these post match comments. Having the players shake hands before matches and all the other guff that they came up with during the summer won’t be enough. They won’t be able to rely on any support from the clubs and their staff, though. As ever in modern football, short-termism is choosing to disregard the long term wellbeing of the game. The number of referees in the game is falling year on year. I refereed a few matches about a decade or so ago. It was a thankless enough task then, and I can’t imagine how much worse it is now than it ws even then. If Joe Kinnear is so damn upset by the decision that may or may not have cost his team a point at Craven Cottage on Saturday, he should perhaps consider the fact that the overall pool of available referees has been falling for some time, partly because of the sort of comments he chose to make last weekend and partly because of behaviour at least partly influenced by such comments. If the managers don’t like it, then tough. There are plenty of other careers available.