At the risk of sounding like Steve Coogans swimming pool security guard in The Day Today, last weekend in the Premier League, no-one died. This isn’t, of course, to say that there wasn’t CONTROVERSY. Every red card that is issued these days is accompanied by forensic investigation by those that would like to get said dismissal overturned and, increasingly, the same tiresome practice now occurs with every card that isn’t issued as well. Were this merely confined to the wilder extremities of the Internet they’d be easy enough to avoid, but social media and a mainstream media that frequently seems dependent upon creating CONTROVERSY where none should exist makes it all more difficult to avoid than it used to be. This, however, doesn’t mean that all is well and good within the game as things stand. English football – and in particular Premier League football, in no small part because as far as many people are concerned, this is where English football begins, middles and ends – has an image problem at the moment.
With image problems come the potential for the only thing that might persuade those at the top of the game to actually act in order to tarnish this battered reputation – a loss of revenue. The FA is fighting a losing battle to try and preserve the integrity of English football at the moment, and it seems likely that they will have to do so alone for the time being. The Premier League has, after all, been resolutely silent on the subject of the games image problems over the last few months, with Richard Scudamore only seeming to emerge from his island lair these days in order to announce a newly embiggened television contract and remind us all that this is all the proof that we need that all is right with the world.
However much of a dereliction of duty we might think this silence is, though, it’s not all bad news. It means that the FA still has an unchallenged free pass on dictating the future timbre that any debate on this subject might take. And it also means that those of us in the wilder extremities of the internet who don’t believe that every adverse refereeing decision is somewhere between a personal affront and a conspiracy levelled against our clubs by a shadowy cabal consisting of Alex Ferguson, the ghost of Bert Millichip and the Freemasons can offer very helpful suggestions which may help to wind the hysteria which hangs over modern professional football like a furious and mildly psychedelic cloud. With thanks to everybody that we, ahem, “crowd-sourced” for these suggestions – any suggestions that we ran out of ideas after number six are, umm, completely scurrilous) .
- Tear up the Respect agenda as it is written today. If there is one thing that mist football supporters actually are agreed on, it is that the FAs Respect initiative is failing to such an extent that Disrespect seems to have become a badge of honour for some. If these problems are going to be resolved, the FA needs a Year Zero approach (though we recommend, from the point of self-preservation if nothing else, not executing anybody connected with the game who wears glasses and can read) which strips away all the pretence of the current initiative.
- Abolish the absurdity of pre-match handshakes. When any new initiative is introduced, the first that is asked of it should be, ‘So, what exactly does this bring to the table, then?’ We all know the answer to this with regard to the peculiarly artificial pre-match rituals of modern football – bugger to the power of all. The only pre-match handshakes that anyone can remember are those that have taken place shortly after the revelation of some sort of tabloid-related indiscretion has taken place, so let the players run onto to pitch for normal league and cup matches, one after the other, and warm up. This was good enough for the first hundred-odd years of professional football. It should be good enough now.
- Dismantle the apparent secrecy surrounding the appointment of match day officials. The one thing we know for certain is that precious few people have much idea of how referees are selected, so perhaps it’s time for a little more transparency in this process. Now, this could be achieved in many different ways. There are currently seventeen referees on the Premier Leagues referee list. All they need to do is add three more and they could have a rota whereby one referee does one home and one away match for each club, each season. If this is unworkable for mathematical reasons somehow (and we’re sure that somebody will be along very soon to say that it is), then why not draw them out of the hat, live on the television/YouTube/wherever, a couple of weeks in advance?
- Ban managers from discussing “contentious” refereeing decisions in the media. Ever. To an extent, this is not always the fault of the manager concerned. There is a tendency on the part of some post-match interviewers – okay, most post-match interviewers – to give the impression that they are asking leading questions with the intention of brewing up a storm before the players have even had a chance to have a shower and a rub down. That said, however, it has been suggested that some managers play “the long game,” passing comment which could be interpreted as accusations of bias against match officials. It is debatable whether they are actually doing this, of course, but threatening to withhold the press pass of anybody who asks a Premier League manager what he thinks of the decision which may just have cost his team three points immediately after the final whistle might focus a few minds.
- Replace all the “Respect” hoardings around grounds with hoardings with “It’s Only A Game” printed on them. Pretty self-explanatory, really. There are too many people in and around the circus of modern football who take it too damn seriously. Subliminal messages planted around grounds (a piece of graffiti in the toilets here, a message printed on the napkin that comes with your balti pie there) might work to a point, but sometimes you just have to go for the enormously unsubtle in order to force home a point.
- Enforce the laws of the game. FIFA, in Law 12 of The Laws Of The Game, is pretty clear on the subject. “Using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures” should equal a red card. A quick read-up on the full laws of the game doesn’t seem to indicate any exemptions to this (ie: “Except in cases in which a player is swearing at no-one in particular because his cultured forty yard pass is in greater danger of troubling the windows of the pub over the road than anybody on the pitch”), so the FA could instruct referees to send off anyone that swears on the pitch with no further explanation than to say, “Don’t you know the laws of the game?” It would probably be carnage for a few weeks, but players and managers would probably get the message in the end. Probably.
- Referees are only to be referred to by their initials, surname and the town in which they live. Back in the olden days, this was a familiar practice. Mr K Hackett (Sheffield) and Mr C Thomas (Treorchy) were names that inspired respect on the pitch (at least they were until the latter of those two started acting as idiosyncratically as he frequently seemed to), with the formal nomenclature that they were given adding to a school-masterly air which, considering the propensity of professional footballers to act like school-children in the first place, was entirely appropriate for the occasions that they oversaw. Andy D’Urso isn’t a figure of authority. He’s your mate. Or somebody trying to be your mate. And when referees start trying to be players’ mates, players will try to take advantage. (Thanks to @RobFreeman for this suggestion, although he would like to point out that D’Urso is no mate of his)
- Make each club write and record a rap about how disrespecting your opponents is not cool. Footballs relationship with rap music might not necessarily have the proudest of histories but this tactic seems to have worked for the cast of Grange Hill in the mid-1980s (Zammo McGuire pulled through, didn’t he?), and the ensuing chart battle might even distract some from the top of the Premier League for a while. Especially at Christmas. (Thanks to @Bloopington for this suggestion)
- Make the attendance of players’ mothers compulsory at all matches. Now, we are not quite certain how, exactly, this could be enforced, but there is a certain basic truth to the well-worn retort that, “You wouldn’t kiss your mother with a mouth like that, would you?” The presence of players’ mothers at matches might serve as a reminder for those on the pitch to behave themselves a little better. (Thanks to @SjMaskell for this suggestion)
- Player/Supporter Role Reversals. This is very simple. Every time a supporter boos a decision, the referee is subsequently allowed to turn up unannounced at said supporters place of work and boo them while they try to do their day job. It might not be the sort of intolerable pressure that referees are put under, but it might be cathartic for them, at least. (Thanks to @DJ_Nicol for this suggestion)
Another of life’s little problems solved. That’ll be £5,000 please, Mr Scudamore.
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