THE BLOG

The Man in Black: Changing the Paradigm

26/09/2013 12:39 BST | Updated 25/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Football is a team game won by moments of individual genius - where players can turn from hero to villain in one moment of madness, change the future of a club with one kick of a ball and drift into the injured footballers void that surrounds the game. Success is never absolute in our beautiful game and as fans and players come and go the only constant in football are the rules of the game. So why, when without the enforcer of these rules who make all competitiveness authentic, does the man in black become a figure of hate?

In 2008 The FA launched the 'Respect' campaign which targets controlling the abuse of match officials at all levels of the game. By launching it at the highest level, The FA were hoping that grassroots would take example from their professional peers and ultimately defuse the violence towards referees at all levels of the game.

'Respect' has arguably taken the edge off referee abuse in the higher tiers of football with a clear drop in official intimidation since its inception. Before the campaign began there were several incidents across the globe that caught the media's eye, most notably Paolo di Canio and Joao Pinto physically assaulting referees. These are just two of many incidents in the footballing world that have shown that changes must be made across all levels of the game, with verbal abuse and questioning of the officials authority still constants in football today.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this year Howard Webb points out that abuse of officials only tarnishes the image of the game.

"Abuse of match officials is abusing the game and is not acceptable but, whilst there might be a small number of people that think that is still acceptable to do it, most people in football - your average player, coach or fan - have taken on board the message, know it is not acceptable and play the game the right way."

Webb believes that although football has a history of referee's being the target for abuse, a change is occurring with incidents declining since 'Respect' was founded.

"From my point of view, football is a positive experience and when I speak to most referees they have the same experience.

"At grass-roots level, referee recruitment and retention rates are up and most people I speak to say they love their refereeing, enjoy getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to do a game, whether it be in pub football, kid's football or women's football.

"If they didn't, they wouldn't continue doing so."

When players are behaving towards the officials in such a way they are leading viewers, of whom a large proportion are young & impressionable, down a track of disrespect. Not only do the players abuse the officials on the day, but also they set off a chain of events where fans have used their heroes' actions as an example and show the same lack of respect towards grassroots officials. These fans are also liable to back the player rather than the official, especially in the case of verbal abuse, and an often occurrence at football games today is the use of profanity from the stands aimed at match officials.

If you take a trip to any football stadium in the country then you can guarantee that at some point in the match the referee will become the target of an angry outburst. Is that not teaching the youngsters around to treat mistakes as intentions rather than simple human errors?

Players acting aggressively towards referees without receiving a punishment seems to be a weekly occurrence in football and if a player like Rio Ferdinand can act this way to a referee, then why not John Smith?

Abuse of referees reached its pinnacle in the Netherlands last year when youth football referee Richard Nieuwenhuizen died after being attacked by six footballers - all under the age of 18 - and one of their fathers. The case saw the defendants found guilty of manslaughter, with the 50-year old father sentenced to six years in prison.

The aggression shown by the youths shows how impressionable young footballers can be; just like they copy Ronaldo's tricks, they will copy his dives, and just like his dives they will imitate his actions towards officials.

An obvious solution to the problem would be to learn from Rugby and how they deal with decisions in the game. It has been mentioned time & time again, but despite the rare occasion where two captains take the initiative to talk to the referee alone, dignified talks are few and far between on the football pitch.

Football has become one of the largest societies in the world and could well play an important role in the future of globalisation. It brings countries, families and communities together, building bridges between nations in politics as well as sport. If it is to remain a positive influence then it must continue to target and eradicate hate and aggression of all-forms in the game.

Racism is a great example where although it has not been completely dissolved from football, it has made remarkable progression since the 1980's. Rather than a regular occurrence at football matches, racism has taken a nosedive and when it shows its ugly head everyone now knows the severity of the offence. Similar action needs to take place in regards to the abuse of football officials and without acting on situations like the one in the Netherlands last year then FIFA, UEFA and all national governing bodies must take blame for any consequences, regardless of the severity.

The relationship football holds with referees is one of bitterness and hate, when without these adjudicators of our sport we would be 22 men helplessly chasing a ball around an abandoned field. Football needs to stop treating them as villains and realize that the men & women dressed in black are the gatekeepers and justifiers of our beautiful game.