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Thou shall not step out of line: message sent loud and clear

New code of conduct, including the decree on use of social media, has 33 commandments to keep players on the straight and narrow

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 4:19am


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The law has been laid down - at last. The FA this week revealed in full its newly adopted code of conduct, a long list of dos and don'ts to be strictly adhered to whether England players are on international duty or not. There are 33 commandments warning England's prodigal and wayward stars in a foreboding tone to behave.

The edicts smack of religious zeal, though some may view them as mere adjuration - a desperate request by the despairing elders for proper behaviour among the glittering youthful rabble charged with representing their homeland. As you read the decrees, you can hear the haughty moral tone attempting to banish the badness.

Like a finger-wagging vicar, a heaven-sent smote is promised for all those who fail to comply: "Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not behave dishonestly or deliberately damage FA property," is how the commandments read. There shall be no more tweeting, no drug and alcohol abuse, no discrimination, no abuse and less time spent in hotel rooms playing video games.

Thou shalt not call room service at the team hotel, show utmost respect for everyone, from hotel staff to drug-testing officers and opponents, and there shall be less talking on mobile phones at meal times, the code declares.

It would be easy to joke that the code and its blindingly obvious advice on how to conduct oneself is a satirical poke at the utter lack of common sense so often deployed by England's finest. But this year alone has proved more than ever that England players must, like school kids high on an ice-cream sundae overdose, be told how to play appropriately in the playground.

Few expect players to be ascetics. But behave they must - at all times.

The decree on the use of social media has been widely applauded. Many players randomly air their philosophy and view point, despite few of them being renowned for their intellectual wisdom. The tweets by Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand prove that highly paid footballers need counsel and discipline to keep them on the straight and narrow, online and off, in real time and at all times.

They must be instructed on how to prevent them from making a mockery of the FA, the country, the game, themselves and the fans.

"Players representing England are ambassadors for their country and role models for younger players. The highest standards of conduct and behaviour are therefore expected at all times, including when players are not on international duty," the code book reads.

There is a chapter entitled "Professionalism". This is because despite their high wages and privileged lifestyles, many players tend to forget they are flag bearers and should behave as such (all that video game playing and tweeting obviously induces absentmindedness).

Notably, there is an entire page dedicated to detailing what is expected of the captain. Clearly, the code is an attempt to assert the FA's powers in the wake of John Terry's sacking as captain ahead of his court appearances on racism charges. The murky saga led to the resignation of Fabio Capello in protest over the FA's pulling of rank - a move the Italian viewed as undermining his exclusive authority to name his captain.

Disciplinary procedures for offences committed are also made crystal clear. All investigations into insubordination will be overseen by the members of the Club England board, headed by FA chairman David Bernstein.

Those found guilty of breaking the code of conduct will be punished by a raft of sanctions. These include oral or written warnings to exclusion from selection for "a fixed or indefinite period". Captains found wanting will be unceremoniously stripped of the sacred armband.

Saliently, with the Terry farce still burning in the FA's blushing cheeks, Club England will maintain the right to suspend players at its discretion, pending the conclusion of any outside investigation, such as criminal proceedings.

In its Victorian tone, the code strongly advises those who have committed a wrong to fess up immediately or be smitten with the code book: "Players are to advise either their national team coach, team administrator or a Club England official when they are guilty or have been accused of any criminal offence."

Rightly, the FA considers representing England as an honour and the new standard procedures are designed to remind the modern game's players of this fact. In the past, such an honour was taken as read.

Others believe their talent is in such a demand by their country that their off-pitch behaviour and arrogance will make them untouchable. Not any more, is the overriding message.

Quite how the great tweeters of our time will cope without flexing their hyperactive digits and spraying their inanities to the world remains to be seen.

What is certain is that Bertrand, Cole, et al have had their 140-character-ability to instantly register their stupidities and insulting, provocative thoughts thoroughly clipped.

Praise be.