Premier League plans clampdown on bad behaviour

As the Premier League announces a clampdown on behaviour towards referees by its members, Club Website editor Dan Pope wonders if we've seen it all before.

When the issue of respect towards football referees is up for debate, one argument comes up time and time again.

To achieve respect towards officials at grassroots level you need to address the issue in the professional game first.

"Put them in their place and the rest will follow.  Children see the things they get away with and think it is okay for them to do the same."

Those were the words of Peter Hughes just yesterday in response to an article on this very subject - just one from a list of similar comments from Club Website members on comment pages, Facebook posts, tweets and emails over the last few years.

Well, since yesterday's article asked who is responsible for respect to refs at grassroots level, there has been some good news for those who feel the professional game must lead the way.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore today announced a new clampdown on the "unacceptable" behaviour of players and managers towards referees, starting next season.

Following a serious of high-profile incidents this season - culminating in Sir Alex Ferguson's five-match touchline ban for comments about referee Martin Atkinson - Premier League officials have decided enough is enough and will seek to introduce a new zero tolerance approach to on-field misbehaviour.

Scudamore said: "I think we do need to concentrate on the player and manager relationship with the referee this time, as every one of us knows that there have been elements of unacceptable behaviour.

"As to what we think is unacceptable; it's vitriolic abuse towards match officials and that has on occasions gone unpunished; the surrounding of referees is unacceptable; the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sanctioned we think is unacceptable; and also the undue criticism, where it spills over into questioning the referee's integrity or his honesty is also unacceptable."

The Premier League will work with the FA, the PFA, the LMA and the PGMO - the body that represents match officials in the professional game - in drawing up the campaign, although details of what will be involved - possible sanctions, what constitutes "unacceptable" behaviour, even so much as a name - have yet to be announced.

It is certainly a step in the right direction but, as ever with these sort of campaigns, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating - or the lack of swearing, more to the point.

But their is a sense of deja vu about today's announcement.

When the Respect programme launched in 2008 to combat poor behaviour in the grassroots game, the Premier League were not far behind in launching their own Get on with the Game campaign - aimed at, wait for it, improving behaviour on the field of play.

Speaking in August 2008, Richard Scudamore said: "At times... and this came into sharp public focus last season, incidents crop up where the mark is overstepped and player and manager behaviour can become unacceptable."

Sound familiar? We're three years on, yet the same problems remain.

Let's hope that this time the Premier League's initiative has a positive effect. Let's hope that, between them, the FA and the Premier League issue instructions to referees to clamp down on intimidatory or abusive behaviour with yellow or red cards - as the laws of the game allow - and that they are then supported when the inevitable media scrutiny follows.

As many people have said over the years, it would only take one weekend of players seeing red cards for crowding or shouting at a referee and it would stop.

As soon as Premier League managers believed poor behaviour by their players would jeopardise their chances of three points, they would soon stamp it out. So let's hope that, at the start of next season, that is where we end up.

But forgive me if I don't get my hopes us too much just yet.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor


Club Website poll: Respect towards referees is back on the agenda. Can the problem ever be sorted at grassroots level without the professional game leading the way?

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