The FA’s Respect campaign is a nice idea in theory. In practice, it hasn’t worked.
Well, certainly that’s the case as far as the ‘respecting the referee’ part of that campaign goes. There hasn’t been a noticeable reduction in the number of complaints about officials, either from players or managers. And there’s fairly good reason for that.
Quite simply, the officiating in the Premier League this season has, most probably, been worse than ever. Most weekends yield several utterly baffling decisions from referees and their assistants. From this past week alone, I can name several.
During Wednesday’s FA Cup Fifth Round replay between Stoke City and Manchester City, the latter’s Emmanuel Adebayor was sent off for swinging an arm at Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross. Replays suggested that contact was minimal, yet Shawcross collapsed to the turf as if he’d been struck by Tyson in his prime. Yet Adebayor wouldn’t have even been attempting to shrug off his challenger had ref Steve Bennett blown when Shawcross was apparently attempting to rip the Togoese striker’s shirt from his back. Bennett then booked Craig Bellamy for dissent, before then seemingly pursuing a personal vendetta against the same player, refusing to give him a single free-kick, even when late on Robert Huth elbowed Bellamy in the face.
Yesterday, during Arsenal’s match – coincidentally also against Stoke – in the late stages of injury time and with the match won, Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas executed a dreadful tackle from behind in the Stoke area. Not only did the ref fail to book Fabregas, the player also escaped punishment for his disrespectful ‘shushing’ gesture to Stoke manager Tony Pulis.
Also yesterday, Birmingham managed to narrowly defeat Wigan 1-0 thanks to a disputed penalty, won when Keith Fahey went down over Mario Melchiot’s outstretched leg. Replays showed no contact. After the game, Blues’ boss Alex McLeish essentially said the penalty was fair enough because the defender had “put [his] leg out”, regardless of whether his player had misled the ref.
But the worst decisions of the weekend came in today’s Carling Cup Final. Four minutes in, and Nemanja Vidic brings down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the penalty area. He’s the last man, and he’s prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity; the letter of the law says he must be red carded. Shockingly, ref Phil Dowd – despite awarding the penalty, and thus admitting that it was a foul – not only failed to send off Vidic, but didn’t book him either. Though that had a more significant impact on the outcome of the game, it was a later decision that truly beggared belief, as Richard Dunne was flagged for offside, despite three Manchester United players being between the forward-thinking Villa defender and the goal.
The Vidic red card in particular highlighted a major issue with consistency. With Chelsea’s Juliano Belletti ordered from the field for a similar foul on Gareth Barry as Vidic’s on Agbonlahor, it’s little wonder managers struggle to hold their tongue, particularly when such key decisions can swing the outcome of a match. This inconsistency extends to retrospective punishments – players can face censure after a game for incidents referees have missed, but not face further action for incidents the referee spotted but failed to act correctly upon. And despite the FA claiming to crack down on divers, you can bet that players like Birmingham’s Fahey will get away scot-free with their so-called ‘simulation’.
In short: it’s a mess. And it’s one the FA seems entirely reluctant to sort out. As long as that remains the case, there will be no respect for the Respect campaign.