Away from Respect

IN a way, it’s quite funny that the FA have asked Joe Kinnear to explain why he called Martin Atkinson a “Mickey Mouse ref” after Newcastle’s 2-1 defeat at Fulham. What do they expect him to say?

I imagine Kinnear telling the FA: “Well, the referee had large black ears, spoke in a falsetto voice and kept addressing the players as ‘Pluto’.”

No explanation required, sadly, as Kinnear came up with one of the most unoriginal insults in football to decry Atkinson’s performance. I forget the specifics of Kinnear’s complaint, but I think it was something to do with Atkinson’s failure to penalise a butterfly for flapping its wings on the other side of the world.

Kinnear isn’t the only manager raging at refs at the moment. Paul Jewell, Roy Keane, Dave Jones, Tony Mowbray and Paul Ince have all frothed with fury in the direction of one official or another since the beginning of November.

Jewell was particularly angry with Stuart Atwell for ruling out two goals in the final minutes of Derby’s 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest 10 days ago.

“Stuart hasn’t called me – I don’t think his mum and dad will let him have a mobile phone,” Jewell was quoted as saying in the Guardian; a rather snide reference to the fact that 25-year-old Atwell lives with his parents.

You’d think that Jewell would appreciate that it’s wrong to make judgements about someone else’s personal life. Even assuming that Jewell has done no wrong in his, the Derby manager knows the jokes that would come his way if he ever called for the introduction of video evidence.

What really seems to get Jewell’s goat – and Kinnear’s – is that they can’t have “a bit of banter” with referees.

As Kinnear put it: “You used to be able to have a bit of banter with referees and they’d put their hands up if they make mistakes. Now they hide.”

Or as Jewell said: “They don’t help themselves by cocooning themselves away like they’re untouchable. Even if they had a go back, at least it’s being human and not hiding behind a banner of ‘Respect the ref’.”

The Respect initiative actually appears to be working at amateur level, where red and yellow card tallies are falling. At the top, though, the attitude of ‘if in doubt, blame the ref’ has become so ingrained in post-match press conferences that it’s hard to know what the FA can do.

Much was made of the slating referee Mike Jones received from Mowbray and Ince after West Brom’s 2-2 draw with Blackburn 11 days ago. Jones, in case you’ve forgotten, awarded Blackburn a penalty and later sent off Rovers striker Benni McCarthy. But there was one exchange during Ince’s press conference that was quite telling, and didn’t get much coverage.

It went as follows:

Journalist: Tony Mowbray just said that your penalty shouldn’t have been given, but also that your player shouldn’t have been sent off. Do you agree with that?

Ince: Erm… I agree with his view on the sending off! (laughs)

Ince said it with a smile, but the point was made. Managers rarely criticise decisions that go in their favour, however ridiculous.

Given that the amateur game is taking the lead in respecting the referee, perhaps it’s time for the professionals to borrow an idea that used to kick around in schools’ and junior football when I was a kid.

The idea is this: When the referee for one of our games failed to turn up, one of the managers would do the job instead.

My idea for sorting out the problem of respecting officials would take this one stage further. In future, all Premier League games should be refereed by the away manager.

(If the away manager is too old or lardy to do it, he can select one of his coaching staff instead.)

I’ve picked the away manager to negate the idea of a home crowd having an influence. But I’d also be curious to see if an away boss would really have the nerve to give his side a big decision in the face of 40,000 furious home fans.

Could Sir Alex Ferguson award Manchester United a last-minute penalty in front of the Kop? How long would Arsene Wenger be able to get away with claiming that he couldn’t see crucial incidents at White Hart Lane?

You may see this as the most stupid idea ever suggested in the history of football. But you might want to give it a thought the next time some halfwit with a mobile phone calls Alan Green on 6-0-6 to claim: “The ref’s cost us.”

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