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[Blog] **** On and Off the Pitch in the 21st Century
Written by TimS on Sunday, 15th Jul 2012 21:01

I was sitting in a bar during another wet Saturday lunchtime, reading the papers. Going past the endless Olympics stories, I got to the double page spread about the recently completed John Terry trial. One page was full of who said **** to who.

There were pictures of various Chelsea ‘legends’ rushing into the court, making the whole sorry sage seem like a Phil Mitchell court case from Eastenders. The other page was full of sober quotes about football going to the dogs, with a lack of morals and principle. There was weird talk about football being ‘industrial’ in nature, and we should expect these episodes to happen, and I wondered whether that statement was **** too.

It is sorry stuff. Although all of the ****s made the article feel like the ‘reveal’ moment on a Beadle's About episode, the whole thing did not make for great reading. Whether what was said was meant to be sarcastic or not, the idea of highlight paid and ‘respected’ footballers behaving within two steps of a bar room brawl is depressing to think about. It is probable that there will be more to say on this **** at a later date.

What does this mean away from the glitzy Premiership and back in Suffolk? No one really knows what is said between players of the Portman Road pitch. You only know when someone says something contentious when players come together, behave like angry stags, red cards are shown, and the players are clapped off the pitch by a sympathetic crowd, who believe that the referee is a (well you can add the asterisks).

The default position for the crowd is to believe that the vicious referee does not understand that football is an emotional game and we want our players to display passion and fight their way to a play off place, at the very least.

In the middle of a baying crowd, the player is pumped up on the pitch for the match. They may have been told about the FA Respect campaign. We may be told that the players have been told about the Respect campaign, and we will be reminded of a campaign which seems to be going on forever without any real objective.

I am not sure when the Respect campaign started, or why it started, but it goes on and on, and referees are still getting ****. It is probable that a footballer - possibly a Town player- will be sent off during the coming season for reasons associated with foul and abusive language. The Respect campaign will be mentioned and all of us will move on to the next game and the next possible transfer.

No one takes any action for these sorts of events. Many well-meaning campaigns and campaign organisations are pushed into the media spotlight. However, with the season starting on 18th August, and the Olympics gearing up to dominate the media in the next couple of weeks, the Terry trial risks being forgotten to become a footnote for history. It should not be.

Whether it is an afternoon match at Portman Road, a Champions League encounter at the Nou Camp, or a Sunday morning kickabout on Bourne Park, it is probable that it will be a passionate affair. The players, the crowd, the manager, the chairman, or the wider game, would not want it any other way.

When does passion turn into boorish, unacceptable behaviour that needs to be challenged? Personal, racial, ethnic, and gender based abuse should be challenged with cards and subsequent hearings. It is not ‘industrial’ to use that sort of spleen.

A sin bin idea should be considered too as a preventative method before the bile is spewed out onto the pitch. Referees and officials should have more power to act and these matchday activities should be supported by more weighty national actions by the governing bodies. I earnestly believe that the Respect campaign should be more than just pleasant PR statement, bright publicity, and well-meaning strategy documents.

It is not just actions on the pitch that need to change. There is a group of people that will come to football to spout whatever they like to opposition fans and players as well as their own. People thought that this attitude had died out where football became family friends drowned by Gazza’s tears, all-seater stadiums, family tickets, Euro 96 and David Ginola.

I believe that you can not say everything and anything in the football ground. It can be Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, Monday evening or Wednesday evening, people have had a hard and difficult day at work, football is a passionate game, emotions run high, but we do have some responsibilities to behave like ‘normal’ human beings.

Going around the country watching Town means that you encounter very strong stewarding at certain games. I can distinctly remember a game at Wolves from a couple of years ago where I watched the whole match with a steward looking directly at me, convinced that I was going to kick off at any moment.

Maybe it was due to being a tall 29-year-old wearing a replica shirt on a dark Tuesday night in the West Midlands, but it was not fun being treated as a criminal in waiting. However, stewards (and the police) should be able to act on outrageously personal, racial, sectarian and homophobic abuse. You can get passionate about Town without having to descend to that particular level.

It is not about political correctness. It is about responsibilities from all groups of people that attend football matches. It is not about players being expected to behave like saints on the pitch. It is not about the terraces going to a football match and expecting to behave as if they are in the Vatican. It is not about football being industrial where people should expect some ****. It is realising that everyone has some responsibilities in the game, and it is up to us, as a collective, to remind people if these responsibilities are forgotten.

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michaeldownunder added 10:59 - Jul 16
Very good read.

How the ref puts up with some of the things said to them by players / fans
amazes me.

Saw Craig Bellemy come on as sub for Liverpool and all he did for the first 5 min was swear and have a go at the ref because he did not get a free kick (He dived). Send a few of these high ranking players off and maybe the game would change for the better.

Watch the film That damed united it rings true in so many ways

brian_a_mul added 14:58 - Jul 18
Very good read! Nice one TimS.

The sin bin idea is very interesting.
Its works amazingly well in rugby/hocky, very physical and intense sports.
In any sport, the competitors/players can loose their marbles (so to speak) in the heat of the battle. This is normal. If a player does loose it (depending on nature of incident) a 10 min sin bin would punish the player, his team and give him time to cool off before re-entering the game.

Sin bin offenses would reduce amount of red cards. Less red cards would keep a larger proportion of fans (some fans) from becoming agressive towards the refs and may help towards fans adjusting their attitudes towards, refs, players etc. That being said there are some fans that seem to be agressive no matter what happens on the pitch!

As for Terry, he should pick up a lot longer ban than Suarez received. I mean this guy is captain of one of the biggest clubs in England and a role model for youngsters all over the world. If they are serious about the RESPECT campaign, the FA should ban him immediately and send out the right message to these youngsters.

Personally speaking I love Ipswich Town FC and sports in general but I'm seriously loosing interest in the circus that has become the Premier League and in football on a wider scale.

Southamptonblue added 11:56 - Jul 19
As far as I know the rulebook still mentions "gentlemanly conduct" - if it were up to me this would be enforced by the FA levying a fine equal to one week's wages for any player who calls the ref or another player a c***

The resulting multi-million pound windfall could then be invested in grass-roots and youth football.
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