(Lack of) Respect campaign

by Patrick Curry

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

According to the official F.A website over 7000 referees quit football every year because of the abuse they receive from players and from the sideline.  The Respect campaign was launched in an attempt to provide a safe and positive environment for players and referees to enjoy the game from grassroots to elite football.  What, then, are we to make of Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest outburst in the aftermath of his side’s 2-2 draw last weekend with Sunderland?

For those who haven’t heard his comments, Ferguson accused referee Alan Wiley of being unfit.  He said: “I was disappointed with the referee. He was not fit enough for a game of that standard.  The pace of the game demanded a referee who was fit. He was not fit. It is an indictment of our game. You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher’s dogs. We have some who are fit. He wasn’t fit. He was taking 30 seconds to book a player. He was needing a rest. It was ridiculous.”

Ferguson has frequently aroused controversy for his attacks on referees.  In 2007 he was handed a £5000 fine and a two match touchline ban for an outburst at Mark Clattenburg at halftime during Manchester United’s defeat against Bolton.  Last season he received another two match ban and a £10000 fine following a finger pointing flare-up with Mike Dean at Old Trafford after United’s 4-3 win over Hull. He was further warned about his conduct in 2008 after criticising referee Martin Atkinson for failing to give United a penalty in an FA Cup quarter-final defeat by Portsmouth. Then in March 2009 he questioned Phil Dowd’s competence after the referee sent off Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney in a 2-0 defeat at Fulham

However, this time Ferguson has attracted far more criticism for his scathing personal attack.  Former referee Jeff Winter called Ferguson “a bully” and “a coward” while Alan Leighton of referees union Prospect said the FA should consider suspending Ferguson from all direct activity at Old Trafford following his latest eruption.

Ferguson is not alone in disrespecting referees this season.  Both Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp have questioned the competence of Premier League referees following controversial decisions.  Allardyce was incensed that Peter Walton missed an apparent trip by Thomas Vermalen on David Dunn in Arsenal 6-2 victory while Redknapp was annoyed that Howard Webb failed to award Tottenham a clear penalty in their 3-0 defeat at Chelsea last month.  However, these grievances followed on from legitimate controversies.  Ferguson’s comments followed on from a poor performance by his team and appeared to be a personal attack to deflect attention from his team’s inadequacies.

It’s unlikely that Ferguson will escape censure for his attack on Wiley.  The real issue is why he should be allowed to show disrespect so routinely and receive what amounts to a slap on the wrist.  Leighton believes that a fine or touchline ban would be “like water off a duck’s back” for Ferguson and that it is time for the FA to get tough.  Whether the FA will stand up to him or not remains to be seen.

Amongst the furore, critics seem to have missed the fact that Ferguson managed to retain his famed dry sense of humour, claiming with a straight face that Wiley, “didn’t add on any time for the goal”.  Quite how he can come out and say that after the amount of times he has benefitted from added minutes and then go on to criticise the referee’s fitness is amazing.  But then Ferguson has always been a difficult customer (as the BBC will attest to).  Let’s hope the FA have the backbone to deal with him properly this time and show that Respect means Respect.

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  • Stevie

    come on, every knows Fergi can say and do what he likes.

    As much as I respect the man there’s no more annoying site then watching him chew his gum and looking at his clock. I’d love to throw an old egg on his stupid face!

  • Nev Napier

    The FA should punish Ferguson with a longer ban in this instance, Premiership managers cannot continue to undermine referees by criticising their integrity, or even their fitness. Ferguson, now that Mourinho has left, gets the most coverage. He should not abuse that position but set an example. It is clear to everyone that he is deflecting blame away from his own players and he should stop patronising us all. If managers have a grievance they should take it up with the referee or approach the FA through the correct channels, spouting off on Sky is just tacky and gives the papers a cheap headline.

    There is no doubt that referees can be poor, but their job is not made any easier by comments from the likes of Ferguson, it sends out the wrong message and sets a bad example to young players. He, after all his years in the game should know better.

  • Finn

    What hasn’t been mentioned here is that 7 outfield players covered more distance than Wiley. Discounting the goalies that means a 49 year old ref still ran further than at least 13 sportsmen in their prime (subs may change this) during the 90 minutes of game. Obviously Fergie and others will say what they want but to me this does seem like an extremely desperate attempt by Fergie to deflect attention from the fact that his team failed to beat Sunderland at home. It only makes him look like an idiot but it does work – witness the amount of articles about his comments as opposed to the amount about the game for evidence!

    As for Wiley – perhaps he should sue Fergie – that’d make him think twice. It could be called defamation and, having read more about referees training recently, one thing they aren’t short of is match fitness. The tests they have to go through weekly are rigorous enough so, again, it all points to a weak attempt to turn the spotlight away from a below par performance by Man Utd.

  • dean

    i don’t think managers and players should run the risk of getting in trouble for criticising referees. I thought the big sam incident was a joke. The ref missed a clear cut pen, he should take the criticism he gets.

    Ferguson, however, is just a whiny bitch who moans whenever things don’t go his way. He should have looked at the facts first as only 4 united players ran further than he did. Ferguson continually says what he likes about refs and gets away with it (remember patricks big 4 article? You think this is linked in some way? I sure do!) so if the F.A don’t make example of him this time, they will be mugging themselves right off!!

  • Giulio di Sagrata

    Right Dean, I’d say there could well be a link between this and Patrick’s big Four piece. By attacking refs (being a bully, yes) AF very possibly intimidates them into the kind of leniency towards Utd he wrote about earlier. It’s only human nature to be reluctant to give pens against Man U etc etc for fear of the Great Man’s hairdrier treatment.

  • Nev Napier

    Well, that shouldn’t be case though should it Giulio? The refereess should have the courage of their convictions, or find another job. I’m glad when they stand up to Ferguson and will back them every time, even if it means they will never referee a game at Old Trafford again. It’s a bit like when a politician resigns from the front bench because they can’t endorse the party’s policies, they know it will kill their career but it’s the right thing to do. I respect referees for making difficult decisions, especially against the big four, Furgusen should show the game a bit more respect and do the same.

  • Patrick

    Agree with Nev on this. Look at Robin Cook. Resigned because he couldn’t support the governments decision to take military action in Iraq. Had courage in his convictions. Unfortunately if refs don’t bow to pressure at Old Trafford there’s a chance they’ll get some very public hairdrying from Fergie which could tarnish their professional reputation and might even ruin their careers. Instead they take the easy route out and tow Ferguson’s line. Since Wiley’s public lambasting at the weekend, however, it has been proven that he actually covered a lot more ground than over a dozen professional sportsmen (as Finn rightly pointed out). Therefore the conclusion that can be drawn is that Ferguson is a bully and a coward trying to cover his teams shortcomings by highlighting what he perceives to be faults in others. The disgrace is that he has got away with it time and time again over the years and will probably continue to do so. Unless the FA stand up to him and hand out a proper punishment like a points deduction. That’s really the only thing that would hurt United and pull Fergie in to line. Fines and touchline bans are meaningless.

    By the way, I notice that all the United apologists (Matt, Dan Church etc) are conspicuous by their absence on this issue. Any words of defence for Britain’s least deserving Knight of the Realm?

  • Giulio di Sagrata

    Nev you’re right, of course you are. In an ideal world politicians and refs would be men of firm principle and behave exactly as you say. Unfortunately the real world is not very often the same as the ideal one. Refs work under huge pressure anyway, and as Patrick says there must be a temptation to take the easy route out and tow Ferguson’s line.

  • Nev Napier

    I guess we might as well all give up and go home then. Good night and good luck!

  • Giulio di Sagrata

    Good night and good luck! Well now you’re talking. Great film that, I’ll never forget it. Just remind me, what was it called?

  • Dan Church

    Apologies all, been on me holibobs……..

    on this issue, i have no comment, Fergie said what he said, whether it was to deflect attention from the teams performance or not, only he knows, but at the end of the day, blimey, he only said he thought the ref was a bit unfit……..its his opinion….a points deduction is a bit harsh i feel……yes, Fergies opinionated, yes he gets his own way, you know what i say…..good for him.

    I realise that his comments only serve to wind up managers and fans of opposing clubs, to which end, looks like hes doing a bloody good job…… Long live SAF !!!!!

  • Dan Church

    ps, it appears my “no comment” turned into a “comment”. Apologies.

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