When the Football Association launched their “Respect” campaign last year, it was met with a degree of derision on all sides. On the one hand, many felt that it didn’t go far enough and, on the other side, there are those that would quite like professional football to become more like WWF wrestling with its pantomime villains and simplistic version of right and wrong. What perhaps wasn’t pushed hard enough by the FA was the simple fact that this wasn’t something that they should need to do. The onus should be clubs, managers and players to be able to control their staff or themselves.
Since it was launched, however, little has changed apart from a desultory shaking of the hands before matches. Some decisive action, however, was taken after a match last weekend in the FA Cup between Scarborough Athletic and Guisborough Town. With just over an hour of the match played and the scores tied at 1-1, Scarborough’s Jamie Waltham was booked for a rash tackle. He didn’t appear to like his decision, and earned himself a second yellow card for his comments to the referee. So far, so unfortunate, but Waltham’s behaviour subsequently, going for the referee, having to be restrained by his team-mates (what might have happened had he not been restrained doesn’t really bear thinking about) threatened to tar the name of Scarborough Athletic. You can see exactly what happened here.
Scarborough lost the match 2-1 but they have, if anything, enhanced their reputation with swift and decisive action this week, sacking Waltham and another player, Scott Phillips (who stormed off the pitch throwing his shirt to the ground after having been substituted). In a press statement, the chair of the Supporters Trust, Simon Cope, said that, “We have no intention of becoming known for the wrong reasons – we want to be known for the right reasons”.
One can imagine what the reaction – or lack of reaction – to such incidents might have been in the Premier League, an environment in which the frequently appalling behaviour of player is more often than not blamed on officials rather than players themselves. The example of Didier Drogba after the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona last season is a pertinent one, with the ambivalent statements after the match from Chelsea Football Club after the events at Stamford Bridge in May. Compare and contrast their post-match statement with the one made by Cope, and note their use of the word “”regrettable”, which has long since been the politician’s way of avoiding apologising for something that they were culpable for:
While it is clear that some of the events last night were regrettable, they occurred only because of the high emotions and frustrations which arose from the disappointment of a controversial defeat in such an important game.
You’ve got to show respect to the officials regardless of what they do. Scott let his temper get the better of him I think. His reaction to being substituted wasn’t what we expect. That’s why we’ve had to take this action with the pair of them. We have no intention of becoming known for the wrong reasons – we want to be known for the right reasons.
It has been noted that there are logistical issues relating to contracts for professional players that make such actions more difficult for professional clubs to see through, but Scarborough’s example still holds relevance for any football club, as well as making practical sense. Waltham is almost certainly looking at a lengthy ban from the North Riding FA for his behaviour, but the wider issue is one of whether football clubs, in the sense that a “club” is a group of people united behind a common purpose (which is taken to its logical extreme at clubs like Scarborough, which are owned and run by their supporters) should wish to be associated with the behaviour of their representatives on the pitch.
Last weekend was disappointing enough for Scarborough Athletic. It was their first match in the FA Cup since they reformed in 2007, and to lose that in itself was a disappointment for them. The additional issues caused by the behaviour of a couple of their players only added to a bad weekend, but they have made the right decision and demonstrated that football clubs are capable of making decisions that are swift, decisive and take no heed of the morally dubious mitigations made by and on behalf of players when they behave indefensibly on the field of play.
Of course, the fact that this is news in itself is precisely because of its rarity value. Scarborough Athletic are to be congratulated on demonstrating that it is possible to see the FA’s Respect campaign through and, in turn, earn considerable respect themselves for doing so. An incident that had the potential to be bring considerable bad publicity to the club has, through the actions of the people running the club, been turned on its head. Respect, as I believe the young people say, is due.