In the past week on both sides of the world referees have come under the spotlight in the game of football. Mark Clattenburg in England for allegedly using inappropriate language to a player, and in Australia for being conned by diving players and being too quick to blow; an accusation that most imports have said is killing the A-League. Certainly there is no doubt that in Australia referees need to let hard challenges go unpunished, it is supposed to be a man’s game after all.
It was interesting to read this week the comments of Swindon Town Manager and West Ham legend Paolo di Canio in his column for the BBC his views on the current state of refereeing.
In his column di Canio states, “When it comes to technology, including recording referees, I would cancel all the new rules and technologies they have brought in over the last 10 years and try to make people behave like they used to. Maybe the players used to be rougher in those days but they were more genuine. The new rules and systems brought about a change in attitude, meaning many players do not behave in a genuine way.Unfortunately, television has in some way destroyed everything. Football is completely a business show now, not a sport.”
The two players in Australia speaking out about refereeing are two of the most genuine in the game, playing the game with honesty and hard, Perth Glory’s Jacob Burns and Wellington Phoenix’s Andrew Durante.
There are few who can argue with the sentiment that football is now a business, and in Australia far too much of the emphasis seems to be on the business side of the game rather than the game itself. How often do we hear from players, managers, the FFA et al about the fans and the crowd? We have players and clubs constantly claiming they have the best fans, and how good they were, we have the FFA and the clubs constantly bombarding us with the crowd figures, the viewing figures and what number clubs need to break even. The average fan could not care less about such statistics, these are for the administrators to worry about and sort out. Fans want to hear about football, tactics, player news and the like, not crowd figures, they go to the games, they know what the atmosphere was like and roughly how many were there. It smacks of administrators trying to justify their positions and almost promoting the fact that they are doing their job. How sad is it that two seasons ago at one A League club the players were briefed to mention the fans and the crowd at every press conference, in the hope that it would entice more people through the gate? That is not a player’s job, that is the marketing department’s role. Sadly in the business of football today the lines are frequently blurred.
Di Canio continues in his column focussing on how players have changed in the modern game and also the way the game is covered, and he laments the changes.
“Players behave like they are actors not athletes. They are thinking about their look. They head the ball and instead of looking to see if they scored, they immediately put their hair back in place. That happened 10 years ago in Italy and I could not imagine England would fall into the same trap. They are thinking about fashion and how to appear when they go on the pitch. I am an old romantic and I would cancel it all and go back to how football was in the 1970s. It is no longer about the football and that drove me mad in Italy. Every sports programme would talk about everything off the pitch and did not talk about the technical ability or the good plays.In England, it used to be that 99% of the time they would discuss tactics and ability, but now it seems to be 75% about the referee and racism.”
He is right, and the pre-match handshake which is purely a PR exercise with little genuine feeling behind it has in fact put the spotlight more on issues between players and teams than taking the spotlight off of them.
There is no denying that football is big business, but it is time the focus went back on the game itself, the tactics and the skill of the players. Maybe it is also time that the players went back to having a bit of banter with the referee, and there was a mutual respect for each other, rather than the man in the middle being cast as judge and executioner. Referees should certainly not be ‘miked up.’ That has been tried, and the language used by the players towards the officials was picked up and hence the idea was abandoned. Some things should remain on the pitch, just as the dressing room should remain private. If you continually break down these barriers and reveal all, you lose the mystique, and there should always be ‘that unattainable’ as a fan, that is what makes all sport so fascinating. Watching others do what most of us can only dream of doing.