As the 2014/15 football season comes to an end, my over-riding memory is of something that needs to be got rid of to improve the sport...
Hassling the referee.
That's it, that's what needs to be got rid of. It's been going on for years, but the cheating at the highest level has become so endemic that as soon as there's any contact between two players, one of them, or more often than not both of them, will hit the floor and pretend they have a grievous injury.
They're trying to cheat, basically, to con the referee into penalising the opponent.
As part of this process, it's now common for the rest of the team to surround the referee, pleading for him to take action. Of course if it's *their* player that committed the foul, they still surround the ref, this time pleading his innocence and the cheating nature of the player on the floor.
It's complete nonsense. It rarely serves any purpose, and it's ugly. So ugly in fact that it turned me off the game years ago.
This season was just the same, with one example involving Chelsea grabbing the headlines, when John Terry sprinted 30 yards to harangue the ref. He's not sprinted that fast for many seasons!
He got derided so badly for it, that he tried to defend himself by saying he agreed it doesn't look good, but that he had to do it because everyone else does it.
Er, no John, no.
While I think his response makes him sound idiotic (not for the first time), and only sets an example for everyone else right down the football chain to do the same, it could be argued that he does have a point - if the other team is doing it, and your team isn't, aren't you giving them an advantage?
Is any team going to say they are taking the higher ground by putting a stop to it?
If that's the problem then, what's the solution? Could we look to rugby maybe, and have miked up referees and a 10 minute sin bin?
Probably not, and here's why...
In rugby, the referee speaks to the offending player in the presence of the captain, and we can all hear via the microphone. The player is warned fair and square that if he reoffends, or talks back to the ref, he will be in the bin. The player replies 'yes sir,' and gets sent away. Then if he reoffends, the ref sends him to the bin as he said he would.
If you get a player sent to the bin for 10 minutes, the structure of the game means that the difference in player numbers will make a difference, and it normally results in a team losing an average of maybe 10 points.
It's not the same in football.
In football, if a team loses a player, they change to a defensive formation, sacrificing an attacking player to build a wall of defenders. Instead of making it easier to score, it often makes it harder for the team with an extra player - the defending team makes no attempt to attack, so the gap created by the extra player never appears.
It destroys any flow in the game, and various stints of 10 minutes of that would not make for a good watch.
When it comes to miking the refs, the problem with that is the swearing. Yes, in time it would stop as the resulting suspensions hit home, but we would all have to put up with a barrage of expletives until the pampered rich boys got the lesson into their heads.
So, the sin bin wouldn't work, in my view. Microphones on refs could work, but would have a horrendous bedding in period. I do think there is something we could take from rugby and apply more to football though - the retrospective punishment.
If a player who isn't the captain, hassles the ref after a clear warning, they should be punished retrospectively, and the club as well. I think that's something that can be done, would make a difference, and would improve the game as a spectacle.
Let's face it though, it's all talk, because any changes like this would need to be agreed by FIFA, the governing body. Apart from doing a good line in chocolate teapots, they are not known for their progressive actions, so I'm not holding my breath.
That's a shame, because it means we already know that next season will be marred by the same old nonsense, the same ugly cheating on the pitch, while other sports like rugby seem to have got it sorted.
Dear FIFA, any chance of some common sense?
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