The Respect Campaign – it’s a game of two halves

A fundamental flaw in the fabric of football’s Respect campaign was highlighted at the weekend, not in the hotbed of a Premier League derby but on a recreation ground in an Oxfordshire village. You can promote the campaign but you can’t make people adhere to it!

The scene was a glorious Sunday afternoon in Bampton, at the recreation ground where the local village team entertained Grendon Rangers in the under 14 B league of the Witney & District Youth Football League and the better team won – but if you were to read the match report you’d come away with completely the wrong idea – this was an extremely unedifying experience to watch.

Bampton were more physical, more vocal, better organised and more up for it, not allowing the Grendon players anytime on the ball and winning almost all the challenges aerial and on the ground. They played better and deserved to win – both their goals well excellent – the first a well worked inter-passing movement – the second a stunning shot from distance that the visiting Grendon supporters applauded wholeheartedly – most dads would have been proud to have scored a goal like that.

It all sounds so good – so what was the problem? Quite simple it was the referee.

I am lead to understand that if both sides agree, even if there is no independent referee available, someone linked to one of the clubs can officiate – with the support of – as seems to be the case – a linesman from each of the team’s supporters. From the games I have witnessed this season, prior to this match, the referees have been excellent, naturally as a parent of a player you are bound to feel aggrieved by the odd decision – but hey that’s the nature of being a supporter. But as I say they have been excellent. Unfortunately I cannot say the same of the chap who refereed this game. He exhibited what seemed, from my and a number of other parents view, to be a lack of control of events – particularly in the 2nd half when, as the match report would have it, it got a bit scrappy.

Football is a contact sport – up to a point. Pushing and shoving is part and parcel of the game – up to a point. Commitment in the tackle is too – up to a point. But what is not part of the game is cynical blocking of an attacker’s run, nor studs up tackling, nor pushing someone so hard that they are knocked to the ground. You can argue, rightly, that at this age there is a great disparity in the heights, weight and power of the players – some just mature earlier but I’ve played enough football to know where the boundaries are – sadly this referee didn’t appear to and this led to some dissent from the Grendon supporters. This dissent was raised significantly when from less than 10 yards away the referee (plus the linesman from Bampton) was unable to spot what to the assembled Grendon supporters was a clear penalty – you just cannot run into the back of someone in the box, knocking them over and expect to get away with it – but get away with it they did.

In fact the referee’s lack of control enabled the Bampton team to get away with a lot of pushing, blocking off of runs and studs shown in tackles. The longer the game went on, and probably the greater the degree of tiredness that crept into the players the worse things got. In fact it got so bad that in response to continued criticism one of the Grendon parents was “sent to the car park” by the referee – several others, who I know to be mature, sensible and kind-hearted individuals followed as they couldn’t bring themselves to watch any more.

Like many others up and down the country I am happy to see my son taking part in competitive sport – he’s not first choice but enjoys every minute of the game-time he gets – I hope through it he will learn life skills as well as keeping fit, and yes I’d like him to win something – it’s such a great feeling – but I’m not prepared to go through another Sunday like – it was shocking and the league should act promptly.

And do you know the worst bit of it all? All along the side of the pitch where both sets of parents lined up to watch was a ribbon attached to some posts to stop us encroaching too close to the pitch- that banner was advertising the FA’s Respect Camapign – allow me to highlight some elements of the campaign:

Match Officials code of conduct

I will:
• Be honest and completely impartial at all times
• Apply the Laws of the Game and competition rules fairly and consistently
• Manage the game in a positive, calm and confident manner
• Deal with all instances of violence, aggression, unsporting behaviour, foul play and other misconduct
• Never tolerate offensive, insulting or abusive language or behaviour from players and officials
• Support my match official colleagues at all times
• Set a positive personal example by promoting good behaviour and showing respect to everyone involved in the game
• Communicate with the players and encourage Fair Play
• Respond in a clear, calm and confident manner to any appropriate request for clarification by the team captains
• Prepare physically and mentally for every match
• Complete and submit, accurate and concise reports within the time limit required for games in which I officiate.

And for the players

Young Players code of conduct

When playing football, I will:
• Always play to the best of my ability
• Play fairly – I won’t cheat, complain or waste time
• Respect my team-mates, the other team, the referee or my coach/manager
• Play by the rules, as directed by the referee
• Shake hands with the other team and referee at the end of the game
• Listen and respond to what my coach/team manager tells me
• Talk to someone I trust or the club welfare officer if I’m unhappy about anything at my club.

And as for the supporters?

Well we need to maintain our sense of fair play, to accept that it is a game and to encourage our children to support the Respect campaign. But last Sunday made that bloody hard! When the man in the middle abjectly fails to do his bit I’m afraid human nature will out.

After the game I was chatting with one of the other parents and expressing my shock and surprise at such biased and ineffectual refereeing should be permitted in a league game only to be told that the very same thing had happened in the previous year’s fixture – same team, same ground, and same damn referee! I wonder if Grendon are not the only team to suffer at his hands?

I do hope he is able to attend the match at Grendon’s ground where I hope he will be able to experience how an independent referee should behave – as surely this must be now an absolute – only independent referees should be allowed – and I hope that the Witney league can champion this! If not the Respect campaign is surely doomed to failure – there was little or no respect last Sunday, not from the referee, not from the players and not from the supporters.

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