You may not have heard of the Arngrove Northern League second division but it is to become a very important League for the future of football in England.
The league, which is based in the North-East of England and features such teams as Esh Winning and Norton and Stockton Ancients, is being used from next season as a ‘guinea pig’ for an FA backed scheme that could change the face of the game.
Referees in that league will be showing an automatic red card to any player, manager or official, who uses foul language. Referees will rigidly enforce the existing rules, and the FA say that the scheme will be extended to other leagues if it is a success.
Arngrove Northern League chairman Mike Amos told the BBC: “I hope it will be a first step towards reclaiming the game from the foul mouthed yobs that increasingly are driving good people – spectators, volunteers and match officials – away from football.
“I’m delighted that the FA has agreed to back us – it could be a momentous day in the history of non-league football.
“There’s still a long way to go and a lot to be done, but the tide of verbal sewage with which paying spectators are greeted could at last be about to turn.”
FA referees’ committee chairman Ray Lewis, himself a former top referee, said that the experiment fitted well with the FA’s Respect scheme, which is being trailed in junior football, and was covered in detail at Soccerlens here: Can the FA Teach Young Footballers Respect For Referees?
He told the BBC: “The Northern League is right to be concerned at the unacceptable level of offensive language. We will watch very closely how this works out.”
Foul and abusive language has long been a problem in the English game from grassroots level up to the Premier League. You do not need to be a trained lip reader to work out some of things said by Wayne Rooney and others to the referees and assistant referees during every game. I have often wondered what other players actually say in order to get sent off for using foul and abusive language. Rooney has used my full repertoire and not been dismissed, so maybe there are some words that I don’t know about!
Law 12 of the rule book says that: “A player is sent off and shown the red card if he… uses offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.”
This is one of the problems facing referees. The rule is very clear. A player using foul language must be sent off. He can’t be cautioned, which on occasions, may be more appropriate. A referee cannot caution a player for foul and abusive language, because in these days of referee’s assessor’s he would be strongly criticised.
I approached local referees for a view on this trial scheme but was informed that under FIFA rules referees are not allowed to speak to the press unless it is to promote kids at grass roots getting involved with refereeing. What a shame this is, as the fact that referees rarely give their opinion about matters is seen as a failing of the officials. Instead of informed comment and explanation we have to rely on the self publicising rants of ex-referees like Jeff Winter and Graham Poll. So, anyway, I am unable to tell you whether referees think this is a good idea.
I have spoken to players from Dog and Duck pub team level all the way up to Professional players in the Conference league. The trial idea has met universally with a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head. Nobody disagrees that personal abuse directed at an official should be dealt with by way of a red card. However, players feel that it is a ‘mans game’ and poor passes, shanked shots and sliced clearances are always likely to be followed by an expletive. This is human nature and not an ‘evil’ in the game.
Wayne Rooney’s club manager Sir Alex Ferguson told the Mail on Sunday that he supported the initiative. “I think at junior level and for Sunday morning it’s a great idea,” he said. “The right practices have to be in place at an early age.”
Unsurprisingly, Sir Alex was less keen on the idea being implemented in the Premier League. “It is harder at the higher levels. Trying to cut out bad language there is like trying to get rid of it from a factory or a shop floor.”
Fergie went on to say, “But there does have to be a line drawn by the referee in terms of what he views as being abusive language in terms of how it is used. That is the dividing line and that is important. I don’t think the referee likes to be called bad and insulting things so it’s a matter of drawing a line. But yes we need to try to eliminate the swearing from boys’ football and Sunday football.”
It is a little difficult to see where Sir Alex is coming from here in relation to Sunday football. I’m not sure why it is important to stamp out swearing in park game between two hungover pub sides in front of one man and his dog, but not so important in a Premier League game in front of 70,000 people and millions worldwide looking at close up shots of the players reactions.
Clearly it is important to eliminate swearing from children’s football, but I would hope that is done anyway. Certainly at the kids football I’ve been to watch, swearing results in the player at least being substituted.
It is the grassroots football that follows the example set by the players at the top of the game. If Rooney was routinely sent off for his rants (sorry to keep picking on Wayne, but he is an obvious example) then Sir Alex would very quickly make sure it didn’t happen again. If he stopped doing it, it would become less likely that kids and Sunday players would continue to do it.
Swearing at a match official should undoubtedly be outlawed. I don’t think many people would disagree with that. Swearing generally cannot be outlawed and is a ridiculous idea to try to do so. I certainly understand what the FA are trying to do with this scheme, and I support the sentiment. I just think that they are tackling the problem the wrong way. It is not swearing that is the issue, it is the respect for referees in general that needs addressing. I know the comparison with Rugby referees is boring, but it does show that every decision doesn’t have to be argued or contested.
The football world will be waiting with much interest to see the results of this trial in the little known Arngrove League.
Graham Fisher writes at Views Of A Fan.