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Respect - Especially for Football Referees

When my kids were young, they would come home from school saying they hated Lucy, Kate or James. Like every parent I used to agonise over what advice to send my little darlings back to school with which a) wouldn't get them detention / prison sentence, and b) might help them turn adversity into advantage by avoiding retaliation and potential escalation. Eventually my advice boiled down to one simple idea for them to remember:

If you make some one feel good about themselves, they'll feel good about you.

So if Lucy calls you fat and ugly, instead of hitting her or insulting her back, why not try "I love your hair, or can you teach me the words to that song....". Not only will that take all the wind out of her sails, she probably won't jeopardise you not saying nice things again, so she may start being nice to you. Worth a try? If it doesn't work, you can always bop her.

Psychologists call this Cognitive Dissonance. In a nutshell there are three components to an 'attitude' - Cognitive (what you believe), Affective (how you feel), and Behavioural (your actions). The idea is that if one of those components is at odds with the other two, you need to make changes to reduce that Dissonance. So if you know smoking is bad for you (Cognitive), and you still smoke (Behaviour), you might argue that it only affects heavy smokers, or that you can stop at any time (Affective) - thereby reducing the tension between what you know and the way you behave. So Lucy will now have dissonance by knowing you make her feel good about the most important thing in the world - herself - and her behaviour towards you. So if she persists in her behaviour, she will negatively affect feeling good. So something has to change to reflect the revised way she now feels about you, hopefully by modifying her behaviour. People crave others to show them respect. And one of the most effective ways to receive respect is to give it first.

Politicians, the Rich, Celebrities etc, all feed off popularity. It's their drug. In order to feed their addiction, they fawn over their fans/voters/acolytes to vie with each other over who has more Twitter followers or more press mentions. It's their measure of how much respect they engender. To achieve self-respect (because they know they're really ordinary folk who sometimes have diarrhoea, pick their noses and fart), they need people to form opinions about them that compete with reality. They need to keep proving to themselves that they are special. To do that, they shower followers with 'respect' by, for example, feeding them personal but pointless banalities on Twitter - "I'm sitting in an airport lounge", or re-tweeting something one of their 'famous' (equally insecure) chums has tweeted. "If I respect someone famous, then their followers might respect me...". Viral fame?

Anyway, to the point of this blog about Respect and how it relates to football. Several years ago I saw a short report on TV about the abuse regularly suffered by amateur football referees. Not just by players, but also by spectators - often parents. The result being that games often ended in disarray and there were too few people wanting to become referees. Watch any professional game and you will see gaggles of over-paid primadonnas surrounding referees to yell foul-mouthed rants at them. Amateurs simply follow the example of their heroes.

This, by the way, is at complete odds with my favourite team sport, rugby, where referees are called 'sir' and their word is absolute law. Make one comment to a ref about his decision, and your team gets a penalty against them. You will probably also be sent off the pitch for 10 minutes (the Sin Bin) and you may even face post-match disciplinary proceedings. Don't forget that rugby is legalised barbarity committed by brutal killing machines fighting over a ball in front of baying hoards of partisan spectators. But as a direct result of respect-for-the-ref and therefore the rules and traditions of the game, there is never, and I mean never, any crowd violence at rugby games - anywhere in the world. Policing rugby matches, at any level, is pointless. Opposing fans are never separated by barriers and 'kettling' to and from grounds. If anyone gets out of order (and it's always because they've drunk too much), fellow fans from their own club will sort them out. A rugby match is always a good-natured civilised affair. Passionate, of course, but totally respectful of each other and of fair play. Cheating is rejected at every level (remember Bloodgate and the shame on Harlequins - my club sadly).

So I started thinking about how we might inject respect-for-the-ref into football at the amateur and perhaps school level. Hundreds of thousands of young men (and many girls no doubt) gather together at weekends to kick a ball around and shout obscenities at referees. They represent a significant chunk of our youth, and nearly all 'youth' support a pro team. So how can we inject respect into football, and in doing so, into the crowds at league games, and ultimately into society in general? How do we seed respect back into a country where patently riots on our streets demonstrate in some corners it has been lost?... I wonder if any of the 1,600 arrested were rugby players, or even rugby supporters?....

So I asked myself, 'who does have respect on the pitch?'. Who has the power to control the way the players behave? Answer: The captains. Every single player on the pitch will do everything possible to impress the captain in order to keep their place, curry favour with the whole team and impress supporters (inc wives and girlfriends). So how can we get captains to force their teams to show respect to the ref? Indeed captains are often the worst offenders, being the first to complain and swear at the ref (and thereby increase the respect their team and spectators have for them in the way they stand up to authority). Indeed being sent off by the ref for insubordination earns great respect in the pub afterwards.

My idea is very simple. Give amateur football referees the power to reward each captain in some way (see below) if by the end of the game they judge his/her team has shown appropriate respect.

About 10 years ago I wrote to the FA (copying in the Home Secretary - to ensure I got a response from the FA) when they were printing posters asking teams to show respect for refs (posters!? very compelling). I suggested that they instruct every premier league side in the country to put aside a hundred or so seats for the captains of local amateur football clubs. How the precise numbers worked would be down to the FA to work out with the clubs. So the reward needn't be for every captain to get the chance to go to every game, but perhaps 1 in 3 home games. Better still, the captains can earn points administered by a central web service which eventually qualifies them for a ticket to the FA cup final, premiership games, dinners with league players etc. The point being that if any player does anything during the game which might affect his captain's chance of being awarded points towards this highly prized reward, then that player will be in considerable trouble - and the captain will only know after the end of the game whether the ref will award the Respect Point or not.

Simple. Its a Respect Chain. Work out who already has the respect of the players, and challenge them to control them or they lose out. Needless to say the gutless FA wrote to me saying 'interesting idea but the poster campaign was their strategy'.

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