Ding, Dong, Respect is Dead

Manchester United has reached the half-way point in their season and yesterday’s 3-0 thumping of Chelsea was the perfect foil for all that is wrong with the Premier League. From the hapless officiating of Howard Webb, to the overt displays of disrespect from Wayne Rooney, to the hapless attacking of Chelsea the signs are all there that the Premier League is very very sick, if not already passed.

First in this mini-series on officiating and “the beautiful game,” I turn my attention to Howard Webb. Lauded by many outside of the Arsenal circle now for many years as the “best official in England”  some of the cracks are beginning to show and I’ve seen a few commentators take some of his decisions to task. Even still, right now, I agree that Howard Webb is the pinnacle of English officiating.

I have seen this type of official many, many times in my career as a sports fan: he’s the “I’m in charge here” official. He’s the guy who feels like it’s his job to dictate the game. He, like Graham Poll before him, will often give out a quick yellow to let both teams know that he’s the boss. The problem is that in doing that he becomes the center of the game rather than the players and even if he gets every decision perfect, by injecting himself into the spotlight, he radically changes the game. It’s no longer 22 men playing against each other in a fair competition it’s “how will Howard Webb call this game?”

In the first 5 minutes on Sunday, Webb gave Lampard a yellow card. Now, I’ve seen a lot of fouls. I’ve seen a lot of Chelsea fouls. I’ve seen Frank Lampard get away with fouls that would have had lesser players sent off. But I can’t recall the last time I saw Frank Lampard get a yellow card in the first 5 minutes of a big game for a very slight foul. It wasn’t Lampard’s transgression (Lord knows he’s sinned) that earned him that yellow, it was Howard Webb telling the world that he was in charge and that one call radically changed that game.

The lie of the whole thing is that Webb isn’t in charge. All you have to do is see the disgraceful way that Wayne Rooney acted after he’d kicked a player who was shielding the ball for a throw in to see this point illustrated. Rooney was called over by Webb, presumably for another talking too (his 3rd of the game) and he turned his back on Webb and walked away. When Webb blew his whistle and called Rooney over he threw his hand up in the universal sign of “go fuck yourself” and kept walking, back turned. It was eerily reminiscent of the Ashley Cole, Mike Riley incident last year that supposedly sparked the whole “Respect” campaign and yet here we are, in the midst of this “Respect” campaign and the league’s best official is chronically incapable of keeping the respect of even one player, much less the whole Manchester United team. Respect, my ass.

Those two instances sum up the problems with officiating in the league: we see it every weekend and everyone knows that the games are not called fairly. As Rafa Bentiez would say “It’s a fact.” When Javier Mascherano can be sent off for his petulant display against the referees while Wayne Rooney gets away with it in every game there are clearly different rules being applied. Does anyone think for a second that Gael Clichy would be allowed to disrespect Howard Webb by turning his back on him and waving him off in the “go fuck yourself” manner? No, of course not.

And back to Lampard’s yellow, I’m no Chelsea fan, in fact I think they are a bunch of cheating scumbags, but that was not the old dirty Chelsea out there by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly not the kind of Chelsea team that deserved 5 yellow cards. And more to my point, if Lampard gets a yellow straight away for that tackle, then how on earth did Kevin Davies escape a yellow against Arsenal for either of his first two fouls?  Both of those fouls are straight red cards if I’m officiating because they are intentional dangerous play. Both the “oops, I was jumping” elbow to the face and the “I’m going for the ball” stamp on your opponent’s foot intend harm in order to “soften up” your opponent —  red card, end of story. The point is, unless the official wants to say “I’m in charge” fouls are treated differently depending on who is committing them and/or at what point in the game they are committed.

If the league wants fans and players and managers to respect the officials then these officials will need to do something to earn our respect because right now the only time anyone respects the officials is when their club is on the receiving end of beneficial treatment. The danger of that culture, where we all just expect poor decisions or see one team being treated differently than another is that we become inured to that discrepancy between the rules and how they are called and when that happens, you get the referee scandal that hit Serie A and the referee scandal that hit the NBA.

Dirty officials can’t get away with making bad calls if we all expect games to be called fairly. To that end, I’d like to see a couple changes. First, instant replay: there is no reason on earth that penalty claims, goal claims, straight red cards, and the like can’t be challenged using video evidence. A sensible system by which managers and fans can get some satisfaction by challenging a decision is absolutely needed and would lead to my second change. Second, no talking to the officials by managers and players. Apart from asking the fourth official to challenge a call, managers should not be in their technical area disgracing themselves by squawking at the officials. I’m looking at you Mr. Wenger. Moreover, players and managers should not be allowed to follow the official down the tunnel and ask them questions during half-time. I’m looking at you Mr. EveryEnglishManager. Third, displays like the ones that Wayne Rooney acts out in every Premier League match should be punished, every time.

True respect cannot be mandated. However, by cleaning up the big calls using video replay, scrubbing the taint of collusion by keeping managers and players away from the referees during breaks, and by punishing players when they show disrespect the league could clean up its image quite a bit and get things back on the right track. If they don’t, the cloud of impropriety will continue to hang over the league.

Because right now, if Man U was paying off the officials, would anybody notice the difference?

23 Responses to “Ding, Dong, Respect is Dead”

  1. January 12, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Couldn’t agree more. United have been getting away with it for years; Keane was the maestro.

    As for replays, there is of course the problem that you could only use it when play had stopped e.g. a player goes down, the ref does /not/ give a free kick and the opposition go up the other end and score. The goal is the first moment that play has stopped – can the original challenge then be called a foul after viewing a replay and therefore should the goal be disallowed? That could get tricky :)

    Enjoying your blog, by the way, a beacon of Premiership sanity from over the pond!

  2. 2 WC
    January 12, 2009 at 8:02 am

    There has been less and less quality English referees over the years and this problem does not seem to be an FA concern when it should be. It is no surprise that more non-English referees are getting nods for bigger European games than English. Perhaps it is time to either send our referees to foreign schools or bring in foreign referees because really those have been better as of late. The FA has become slack as well lately. Way back when there were serious rowdy fans disrupting otherwise perfectly good football matches, the FA cracked down hard on the clubs to control their fans and now we’re arguably one of the best leagues in that respect while the Serie A and La Liga will run wild with spectators throwing all manner of objects, using fireworks, smoke etc in their games. The FA needs to come down hard in an almost military lockdown fashion to dictate the mannerism of the clubs and officials about their conduct and ability to fairly referee a game. The rules need to be enforced and even better, reviewed so that there is no ambiguity in their wording. Whatever call Howard Webb makes one week, should produce the same result the following week if such an event happens with say Mike Riley calling the game. There is almost no continuity or consistency in the officiating over the past few years and certain players are taking advantage of this. Though Rafa’s little rant about Fergie was unnecessary he does bring up a good point about fair play and the governing bodies have to take a close look at it.

  3. January 12, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Hey fourstar, thanks for the compliment!

    The idea for the video replay was best outlined by T-Town Alex in the forums here so I’ll just go ahead and quote him:

    “But my vision of this is very simple: The coach can only appeal certain types of calls, including yellow cards, red cards, disalowed goals, and penalties. That’s about it. No need to break the flow of the game by reviewing or appealing every single foul call. That’s absolutely not necessary, and is not the problem. What kills the game in my mind are the big decisions that the ref gets very wrong sometimes, like red cards, penalties. The rest of the game works just fine. And each coach gets 3 appeals per match (or 2 per half, or whatever). Simple, easy, non-disruptive to the game, addresses the big problems. Done.”

  4. 4 Dutch Master 10
    January 12, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Good blog – These so called officials sum up what is wrong with the game they get F*** all respect because they deserve F*** all respect. The little scouse Pikey gets away with it every time. Regarding video – they won’t bring it in because it will show just the degreee of incompetence we have been putting up with from these useless ‘orificials’ for years and at the moment it doesn’t get audited correctly.

    Hopefully the shit will be drinking Coca Cola next campaign. ‘Notlob’ – what a disgrace to the Premiership that Bolton shower of shit are They had no players because they are all banned and then they moan about it.

  5. 5 Dutch Master 10
    January 12, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Good blog – These so called officials sum up what is wrong with the game they get F*** all respect because they deserve F*** all respect. The little scouse Pikey gets away with it every time. Regarding video – they won’t bring it in because it will show just the degreee of incompetence we have been putting up with from these useless ‘orificials’ for years and at the moment it doesn’t get audited correctly.

    Hopefully the shit will be drinking Coca Cola next campaign. ‘Notlob’ – what a disgrace to the Premiership that Bolton shower of shit are. They had no players because they are all banned and then they moan about it.

  6. January 12, 2009 at 8:16 am

    “What kills the game in my mind are the big decisions that the ref gets very wrong sometimes…”

    But that can also be NOT giving a foul/penalty/goal, surely? How would you appeal a not-given handball in the area (surely a ‘big decision’) without stopping the game? I am all for in-game replays — the speed of the modern game warrants it — but I still see a sticking point here.

    (You have forums? Happy to join the debate if you’re open to visitors…)

  7. 8 T-Town Alex
    January 12, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Fourstar – The idea was to not disrupt the flow of the game. Appeals/reviews can be requested when the ball is dead (out of bounds, free kick, etc.) not when the ball is in play. It would work very similar to Tennis or American football. Example: I shoot the ball in the penalty area off a defenders hands, the ball goes out. Referee calls corner. My coach requests review. The corner is overturned and it is a penalty.

  8. 9 davi
    January 12, 2009 at 10:17 am

    love that last line
    yes man utd have been getting away with a lot for a long time
    meanwhile we seem to get the short end of it
    really good article

  9. 11 T-Town Alex
    January 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Obama will fix this.

  10. 13 T-Town Alex
    January 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Here’s a better summary:
    Surprising to see Aston Villa, West Ham, and Chelsea losing lots of money…

  11. 14 caribkid
    January 12, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Rooney should have had 3 yellow cards (if that’s possible) for remonstrating against Riley every time a foul was called on him. Rooney should have been kicked off the pitch immediately, but no, the top British players like Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, Cole and Terry get away with this week in and week out. Since Fergie has been proclaimed “GOD” by the FA he and Manu can get away with anything and expect to only get a slap on the wrist occasionally.

    Like you said Timothy, how can one respect the refs when they are so obviously biased.

    INSTANT REPLAY, come on Timothy, the FA is so entrenched in their old school dogma that would be an affront to their sensibilities. Change the game, WHY, it’s perfect because we made the rules they said. They even scrapped the idea of goal line video like which they employ in Tennis after spending mucho buckeroos. To expect the FA the consider any changes which makes sense goes beyond normal sensibilities.

    Loved your blog though, you hit the nail on the head.

  12. January 12, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    @T-Town Alex: “Example: I shoot the ball in the penalty area off a defenders hands, the ball goes out. Referee calls corner. My coach requests review. The corner is overturned and it is a penalty”

    I understand you, but that does not solve the problem I outlined, which is not uncommon (re-worded as follows):

    “I shoot the ball in the penalty area off a defender’s hands, the referee sees no offence and does /not/ blow his whistle. The ball bounces back out to one of their midfielders who belts it up the pitch to their striker, who scores.”

    The goal is the first moment that play has stopped, so you are suggesting that at that point the original handball decision can be challenged and called a foul after viewing a TV replay, and therefore the goal would have to be disallowed? There would be mayhem :)

  13. January 12, 2009 at 2:54 pm


    Villa, Hammers, and Chelsea are in dire straits.

    Hammers will probably be deducted 9 points this year for the BS they pulled in the Tevez affair. In their precarious situation that almost certainly means relegation. If you add in that they will probably go bankrupt because their owner has no money, they might just simply be relegated. They are a strong club with very strong support so I think they would do well under a restructuring of their finances and would bounce back in a few years.

    Chelsea are in very real danger of losing their sugar daddy, who they owe £700m. £700m!!! In that case, he will probably have to forgive their debt and just move on. Maybe keeping the remainder in stock or something after he sells the majority to someone else. Either way, they will not be winning a championship any time soon.

    Pompey is also in serious trouble. They financed their FA Cup trophy and the hangover is incredible from what I understand. The reason they aren’t splashing huge cash (they got something like £35m off their last two deals) is that their owner is recouping some of his losses. For the size stadium they have and the fact that they are paying huge salaries to a bunch of under performers I suspect that they too will be staring at relegation.

    Villa? Villa NEED to take 4th place. The money they have spent is really incredible for the size club they have and unless they get the £5m-10m for getting dumped out of the Champions League in the preliminaries they are toast.

    Liverpool is another club with serious problems. They have a bank loan due here in a few months and no one is going to refinance them, not in this climate. If they can’t get financing on that loan they will technically be insolvent and could be deducted points (the FA would love to do that!) in the middle of a heated championship run.

    Man U on the other hand, has a parachute loan due in a few years, which they haven’t been paying interest into. For the time being they are safe, but I think by 2010 they will be in real trouble.

    I like Arsenal’s position in all this. Their salary to gate receipts ratio is outstanding, their world-wide marketability is outstanding, their brand name is outstanding, everything about the club is looking golden. As far as I can tell, they are the oly club that will be able to challenge Man City for the title over the next 10 years.


  14. January 12, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    First time I’ve found your blog, and a superbly written piece! I too get infuriated by the failure of the Respect campaign, and by pundits who would slate every brave decision a referee makes.

    For example, it Webb had sent Rooney off, he would have been panned at half time for ‘showing no common sense’. And it extends to other parts of the game, most noticably the rugby played in penalty areas when defending free kicks and corners. I’m sick of hearing pundits say ‘if you give that, there’ll be six penalties every game.’

    No there won’t. If you stamp out misdemeanors that happen across our game, whether shirt pulling or disrespect, players will have no choice but to adhere, or they’ll spend countless matches on the sidelines.

    I would love to be a referee, go into both dressing rooms and say ‘If you disrespect me, I’ll book you. If you pull an opponent’s shirt, I’ll book you. If you wave imaginary cards at me, you’ll get one’. They wouldn’t be able to say they weren’t warned.

    Good blog!

  15. January 12, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Has anyone got a video of Rooney’s dive that got Bosingwa a yellow card? It was a classic.

  16. 19 caribkid
    January 12, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Agree wholeheartedly with you Pete, especially with shirt pulling. There is no need for that in the game and years back when I was playing that would be an automatic ejection.

    If you watch the Euros, World Cup and any other major competition it’s completely absurd as to what goes on whe a free kick is being taken. The wall moving forward after the ref walks off the 10 paces, shirt pulling, chest thumping, ankle kicking, short’s grabbing, elbows to the kidney, it’s just plain fucking ridiculous and reminds me more of Rugby than anything else.

    FIFA needs to take a stand, but like the UN, FA and all these almighty bureaucratic organizations, lip service is paid and then they turn the other cheek.

  17. 20 barnaby
    January 12, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    As much as it’s a double standard for a certain club, the big england team players tend to get a free pass far too much. Unfortunately, after being conditioned in a certain way domestically, on the international stage their proclivities and excesses are easily exploited, Beckham, Rooney, at some cost.

  18. January 12, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Never mind. I found the highlights, split the Rooney dive out, and uploaded it.

    Here you go lads….

  19. January 13, 2009 at 5:06 am

    You rock Patrick, thanks.

  20. January 13, 2009 at 7:50 am

    No. You rock Timothy. Excellent blog.

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