Respect? It’s just a word.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me,” so goes the famous song. The FA is throwing the word “respect” around all the time these days but what exactly are they getting at?

A quick search of the FA’s official website yields 100 results for the keyword “respect”. They have launched their campaign across the country looking to stamp out all aspects of bad behaviour throughout football at all levels. There are guidelines on how a parent, coach, spectator, referee and of course player is expected to behave.


The part of this initiative that has caught my interest the most however is the one that covers referees. It is estimated that in this country up to a thousand referees walk away from the game of football every year as a direct result of physical and verbal abuse. Part of what the FA is trying to do with this respect campaign is to stem the tide of referees who leave football behind. They are doing this through a scheme of educating those who participate in the game, and showing that they will not tolerate any bad behaviour towards the officials.

Club members are asked to sign a code of conduct in which they declare they will behave properly towards the referee at all times. It also states that they are aware of the repercussions should they step out of line. It is all presented in a thorough and well written PDF document that you can find on the FA’s website.

Here’s the thing though: It’s all bollocks isn’t it?

The respect campaign is supposed to cover all levels of football in this country. I have watched maybe 20 or 30 Premier League matches this season on the television. I cannot think of one game where there were no open displays of dissent. Not one game where I could honestly say the players showed the referee an adequate amount of respect.  

I am sure that the respect campaign has its merits and I’m sure in some quarters it has worked very well. However, how can we teach our children about the importance of respecting the referees when week after week, their heroes are seen screaming obscenities at the officials from a yard away?

Probably the worst example that immediately leaps to your mind is that of Manchester United and England’s Wayne Rooney. There is no doubting what a wonderful footballer Rooney is. It is not difficult to see why he is adored by scores of children across the land. Think about this though; would you want your child to behave in the way he does on the pitch? Do you want your child spraying a Rooney-esque barrage of four letter words your way whenever they don’t like something? I would be surprised if you arrived at any answer other than no.


The FA mentions sanctions that will be imposed on players who openly disregard the rules of the respect campaign. However, when was the last time you saw someone sent off for dissent? The only high profile example I can think of is Javier Mascherano in the Liverpool vs. Man Utd game. That wasn’t even this season. Most referees are simply too afraid to do anything about it. Some even acknowledge that it’s just part and parcel of the game these days. I must say I do not agree.

How to deal with it though?

If you examine the way officials are dealt with in other sports, football is just not dealing with the problem at all.

Hockey for example has a series of penalties that seem tailor-made for the problem. One is moving a free-hit up ten yards for every show of dissent. I have seen cases of a team having the ball moved the length of the pitch due to the behaviour of one of their team. Rugby also uses this system, both to great effect.

Rugby has a system where only the captain may approach the referee; even then he is only allowed a polite enquiry as to the decision before returning to the ranks to resume play. Can you even begin to imagine John Terry politely speaking to Steve Bennett before joining the Chelsea wall for a free kick? I thought not.

The problem is that football has gone too far beyond the respect. Whereas with rugby and hockey, your first show of dissent may result in concession of territory, your second almost certainly results in a stint in the sin bin. Football does not have this wiggle room as it does not have a sin bin option.

The introduction of a 3rd card like they have in hockey would be a great idea. As with hockey, football could have a green, a yellow and a red card. The green could be used as a warning for the first show of dissent. Another show of dissent and you get a second green/yellow card. At this point you sit out for 10 minutes or so. Players would soon realise that they simply cannot keep getting sin-binned. A third instance of dissent would mean you are red-carded and not allowed to return to the field for the rest of the game. Simple.

FIFA has already shown itself to be resistant to changes in the rules of football so it is hard to see how anything would be solved even using the above. In that case, if FIFA grimly stick to the rules already in place, referees need to start punishing players to the letter of the law. Dissent? Yellow card. More dissent? Off you go. It won’t take long for the players to learn to shut up. Obviously this is dependent on the referees being strong enough to send players off, however if it became the standard it would be a fairly smooth transition.

Referees get a large majority of decisions in games right already. Imagine how good they’d be if they knew they could make a decision without being harangued by an angry mob of players. Players and managers always lament the standard of refereeing, but surely it would improve with less player pressure on the officials?

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me”? In my eyes it means if the players behave like children they should be treated as such. Let’s see how long it takes them to learn.



  1. A well written and well thought out piece, would that the world was such a simple place. Unfortunately football has caught the ‘big money’ bug where normal human beings are traded for obscene sums of money (I thought we didn’t do slavery) then having paid that enormous sum of money the aquisition must be allowed to do, have and say anything they want in order to keep laying the golden eggs. They feel they are above reproach as they have no boundaries or rules only sycophants telling them how wonderful and valuable they are. Until we accept that they are just human like the rest of us and stops making excuses for their transgressions then the establishment will be unable to reign them in. Unfortunately this lack of RESPECT is the exception not the rule.

  2. I bumped into John Terry at a restaurant in Esher, Surrey, several years ago. It was a lovely Lebanese restaurant and it was a balmy summer evening so everyone sat outside. My table was next to Terry’s. There was a certain buzz in the restaurant as everyone turned to take a glimpse at this famous diner. Terry was clearly aware of the interest that he was generating. He looked at the menu and looked up at the waiter who came to take their orders.

    “I’ll have burger and chips,” he said. His wife looked embarrassed. “You can’t John. It is a Lebanese restaurant. They don’t have burger and chips here,” he was told.

    “That’s what I want,” he said. Clearly what Terry wants he usually gets. The waiter explained that they had no burger and chips. “Everything we have is on the menu. We serve only Lebanese food.”

    Terry sent the waiter inside to check with the chef and bring him what he wanted. The waiter came back out again and said he was sorry but the chef said no.

    “Send the chef out,” Terry said.

    Minutes later a white-apron-clad chef came storming through the restaurant towards Terry’s table outside. He approached the England captain from behind, and said angrily: “This is not a burger bar. It’s a Lebanese restaurant. We don’t do burgers.” He then looked down and saw who he was talking to and said: “Oh my God, John Terry. I’m a big Chelsea fan. Of course you can have burger and chips, I’ll get them straight away.” If you are Terry, it seems, the rules are different from those that exist for other people.

    After a year and a half of you diligently reading Ventspleen, I finally have a chance to repay the favour.

  3. Whilst what you’re saying about respect is correct in many ways, something you fail to note in your article is the role of supporters and the media.

    Football is the most high profile, high stakes sport on the planet, with single actions potentially costing tens of million of pounds. Moving a free kick 10 yards forward or dishing out a red for being called a twat, in the process costing a team a league title or cup or CL place or, imagine, the world cup would literally make your life unliveable if you were the referee who made that decision. And the media, particularly the British tabloids, are complicit in this and beyond the reach of any FIFA guidelines. Look at Urs Meier and Anders Frisk.

    I am not a regular attendee at rugby, cricket or hockey games. But I would wager that you don’t have overwhelming numbers of people screaming disgraceful obscenities at officials and opposition players. Often with their own children stood next to them (and joining in) as they do it.

    I am something of a pessimist on this subject because I think that ‘respect’ is something the FA, Premier League or FIFA are incapable of instituting. They will not take measures liable to significantly damage their own finances and newspapers will continue to print whatever the hell sells.

  4. I’d agree with you: Maybe my view is a little bit idealistic; maybe it is naive of me to think that things could change in such a drastic fashion. That said, is the amount of money at stake/the reaction of the media and fans really adequate reason to openly flout the basic rules of the game? Many people would say it is, however I personally do not agree.

    Maybe it would take a long time, and maybe there would be some troubles making the transition from the situation we currently have to the one I propose. Surely in time, were these decisions to become the standard and not the exception, would it not ultimately be worthwhile? As the old saying goes, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

    Obviously the situation where the media persecuted Urs Meier (Anders Frisk was more Chelsea’s doing in my opinion) is not something we want a repeat of, but again, if every referee is making the same decisions, backed by the governing bodies there is no way one referee can be singled out in the way Meier was.

    Unquestionably football has larger and more aggressive crowds than other sports. However, other sports’ followers tend to take their lead from the players out in the middle. There is far more of a culture of respect amongst the players in rugby, hockey and cricket towards the officials, which seems to extend to the crowd. I am not foolish enough to think that the players are totally responsible for how the crowd behaves, but again, it is all about the culture the sport has bred. A culture of respect has to start somewhere, why not put some of that responsibility on the players? Why not teach them to behave by punishing their bad behaviour? Who cares what it costs them or their team? They’d soon learn.

    Football in my opinion has a serious problem that it has the tools to deal with, it just chooses not to. Maybe that choice is because of what those involved feel is at stake as brandreth mentions. However I still don’t feel that is adequate cause to ignore the situation and do nothing.

    Thanks for everyone’s comments, they are much appreciated, by all means keep them coming.

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