Monday, 12 November 2012

Brian Moss' Blog

The Man in the Middle

The Mark Clattenberg row looks like it will be coming to an end when the English FA come up with their findings on the alleged racism incident which Chelsea claim happened during the recent Chelsea Man United match at Stamford Bridge.

In case you are currently residing under a rock John Obi Mikel claims that in the course of being cautioned by Clattenberg during the game he was subject to a racist remark - the claim was backed up by several other Chelsea teammates including Juan Mata.

The findings will reveal the extent, if any, of the allegations. From the outset I was a bit sceptical given the two players making the allegations don’t exactly speak Shakespearian English, but that is a side point. The issue brings to light verbal abuse within the game - what’s disappointing is that this view seems to be one sided, few if any seem to be taken into consideration the level of abuse officials receive at the hands or more accurately the mouths of players on a weekly basis, some of which is far worse than what Mark Clattenberg is alleged to have said.

Before anyone thinks that I am for one moment condoning racism in sport or any walk of life- no, I have no John Terry in me, in fact I do have a pronounced disdain for the so called English brave heart, biblical lepers had more people willing to shake their hands than the Chelsea captain at this stage however that’s for another day. If Clattenberg is found guilty I hope he gets the requisite discipline, but I think it’s time we highlight the plight of the referee- abuse to officials is unfortunately something I know a thing or two about.

A few years back while living in Scotland I decided to become a referee, my thinking was it would be something to do on a Saturday and an enjoyable way to make some pocket money. As my (glittering) playing days were coming to an end I felt it would be a good way to stay involved with the game and so I undertook the 10 week course and upon successful completion became a qualified ref.

I took charge of a couple of childrens' games prior to returning home. Having enjoyed the experience of reffing and feeling the need to make use of the qualification I applied to ref in Dublin where I was then based.  I registered with the AUL league in Dublin and was thrown into the lion’s den of men’s senior football. I was with the league for over 4 seasons and by the end felt I was pretty decent, being relatively young, fit and still playing myself I believe stood to my advantage.

However my overriding feeling I have of the experience is a negative one.

When I began reffing I expected a certain level of abuse, back chat etc but some of the names I was called and intimidation I was subjected to if done on the streets would result in court cases. Of course you can take action but if you are to caution every player who swears or talks back it will be soon be a very empty field. I have been physically threatened on several occasions and have had to be escorted from the field for my own safety. Fear for my own safety is one of the main reasons I have decided to take a break this season.

It would be wrong to say that there weren’t more pleasant games; I would be a ref who would talk to the players throughout the game and do my best to explain decisions. I never had a problem apologising if I made a poor decision, I think that earns the respect of players. Without getting into social economic debates the areas I was reffing in were deprived sections of the community and respect for discipline of any sort was not something that went down well with many from this locality and perhaps I must take this into consideration when relating my experience. I know several officials involved in other leagues that have had a very positive experience reffing to offset mine.

Reffing in sometimes difficult circumstances I developed a few ideas which I feel could improve discipline and respect toward officials.

Rugby is quite rightly lauded as the bar to be met in terms of respect for officials. The GAA's record in this regard is coming under increasing pressure. It seems there isn’t a week goes by without a report from some part of the country of serious abuse and physical intimidation towards officials and it is a growing problem which the GAA needs to take seriously. The level of respect is institutionalised within rugby and that is not something that is going to happen overnight in soccer but there are a few things which I feel could improve discipline immediately.

Bring the ball forward for dissent: I feel this is something that could greatly improve the levels of backchat by players following decisions, the GAA use this rule and it does work.

Educate players on the rules
: There are only 17 rules in soccer and it’s amazing how little players (and managers) actually know. By given player a copy of the rules to brush up on might go some way to improving players understanding of decisions.

Starting at underage level bring in Rugby levels of respect: For many older players it’s too late to try and make them see officials in a different light. Players playing for 15 or 20 years where abuse of referees is common place are probably past the point of redemption, but starting with first time players, an attitude of respect towards officials and opponents can be ingrained. Simple things like applauding opposition teams off the pitch at the end of games a la rugby and zero tolerance of abuse to referees. If started now this new generation will grow up with respect for officials and opponents at the forefront of the game.

Abuse to officials is probably not something that’s ever going to be eradicated completely from soccer but there is certainly huge room to improve. One would have to feel for local associations who are trying (as many are) to improve this situation. A nine or ten year old seeing idols like Wayne Rooney directing yet another foul mouthed tirade towards an official without consequence is extremely difficult to overcome in the battle to convince young players of the unacceptability of such behaviour.

Indeed its likes of Rooney who need to lead the change and not just play lip service to campaigns to improve respect for officials, actions do speak louder than words, maybe bringing the ball forward whenever he and his peers decide to have a one way conversation with the refs might go some way to halting such behaviour. No doubt if officials could take such action Rooney would be on the receiving end of some choice words form his manager himself.

The Clattenberg row, although unsavoury, does bring the issues of respect within soccer back to the debating table. Soccer more than most sports has huge problems in this area and players should be mindful that without refs there are no games. Maybe walking a mile in the refs shoes might change the attitude. At the fear of sounding like Mitt Romney it is time for change, let’s hope changing attitudes in soccer will be more successful than Mitt.


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