Book must be thrown at ‘The Professor’ Arsene Wenger if the kids are to learn respect
When push comes to shove, pugnacious Arsenal boss must be given lengthy ban to stop verbal and physical abuse of officials at all levels
Hell hath no fury like an under-12 junior football team wrongly flagged offside by a middle-aged dad roped into running the line for a Sunday morning fixture.
Eleven-year-olds know the offside rule like the back of their hands because they have been raised on the Fifa video game series.
Test their knowledge at your peril. Their high-pitched voices will let it be known with the all the authority of a pride of adolescent lions that you are a buffoon bringing shame on the dad class.
Highly embarrassing though it is, what can come next is unexpected, uncalled for, wholly unacceptable and must be stamped out.
Because nothing puts the fear of God into anyone voluntarily facilitating the game’s bedrock Sunday league contests than a bunch of other dads/guardians wading into officials with all the menacing thuggery of Colombian drug-cartel foot soldiers.
Expletives and threats can fill the air as the official is vilified in front of 22-plus kids in need of moral compassing despite their all-knowing, all-footballing savvy.
The adult amateur game is worse. There, it’s the players who go for the officials’ jugular, too often literally.
Take amateur ref Ryan Hampson. He recently called a referee strike over grassroots abuse. More than 800 refs welcomed his militancy and threatened to join his picket over the verbal and physical attacks from players and spectators.
Hampson, who is just 18 and started refereeing at 14 in his home town of Manchester, detailed how he had been punched, headbutted, spat at and blocked inside a changing room during his first three years of officiating amateur matches.
He bemoaned the lack of support from his local FA and the national FA.
This week Hampson called off the strike because – finally – the custodians of the game agreed to address the disgraceful erosion of law of order on community football pitches.
The Manchester Football Association has stepped up, arranging a meeting with the FA’s newly appointed “Respect” manager who will be charged with reinvigorating the campaign that was launched amid much fanfare in 2008.
You may recall the Respect armbands and banners in high-profile games and tournaments.
But a recent survey of more than 2,000 officials in England found that though 54 per cent of referees felt the Respect campaign had been successful, most said they felt “disenfranchised” by the perceived top-down nature of the initiative and unsupported when incidents of abuse happened.
Ending the culture of abuse once and for all will take a generation at least. Cultural change requires time, investment and a consistent message, everything the previous Respect campaign lacked. Abuse is back with a vengeance, according to officials like Hampson.
Even then, the campaign for sportsmanship will face a setback every time one of the highly paid ambassadors of the professional game takes verbal and especially physical umbrage with an official – just as Arsene Wenger did when he pushed and hurled abuse at officials last weekend in the game against Burnley.
We watch football as much for the passion it generates as for the intense competition and entertaining skills it provides.
That even the quiet, rational and steely intellectual anorak-wearing Wenger can jump up and down and cheer and cry like the rest of us is part of the appeal.
Unsavoury as it is, even some of the collective blue-laden chants at the officials and the opposition from the terraces have long been taken and excused for what they are – adult-themed pantomime.
But laying your hands on an official in a threatening manner at any level of the game is a legal and moral crime that must never be tolerated.
The FA must throw the library’s book vault at Wenger and make an example of him with a six-game ban and heavy fine at the very least.
No one must be seen to be above the law, be it those of the game or the land.
Otherwise those righteous and justifiable under-12s’ protests against premature flag waving from middle-aged dads masquerading as officials might morph into a William Golding Lord of the Flies-esque savaging, where respect for the game is the last thing on their young minds.