Friday, January 04, 2013

Walk away from "Thugball", Stanley Lover advises refs

I've had the honour recently of exchanging emails with a certain Stanley Lover. Stanley, who lives in Paris, had a 25-year long global officiating career, including top matches in Britain and abroad. He's particularly proud of serving FIFA for 23 years, as an instructor for international referees, in all six confederations. His first book Football Laws Illustrated is still in print after 42 years. He qualified with the Kent CFA when living at the top of Shooters Hill, Woolwich.. Stanley is well into his 80s these days but shows few signs of slowing up after an extraordinary life. He has given me permission to reproduce what he describes as "A referee's Rant." 

Walk away - from Thugball!

A rant by Stanley Lover     

State of play 2012 
Patrick Collins (in the Mail on Sunday recently) brilliantly exposed the state of play of the pro game. His theme was how the "Beautiful Game" has turned ugly. 

The thug element at pro level is dragging the game into disrepute.  On and off the field the thugs are seen to get away with murder. Faithful fans are losing interest in today's game - I'm one of them.

No one seems to care about the undeniable damage done to grass roots football and, particularly, the problems of referees trying to police the thugs. Pro examples spread the cancer of contempt throughout all levels of the game. Sickening.

Where did it all go wrong, from the days of sportsmanship and respect?

Consider this: A traditional approach towards  the ethic of sporting play  is enshrined in the Minutes of a postwar FA  International Selection Committee. This states  that 'no player who has received a caution shall be considered for selection in England teams'.

Consider the force of punitive measures for unsporting conduct - cautions, dismissals, fines, suspensions. Today, top matches rarely finish without three or more cautions and a dismissal or two. What does that say about the state of play?

Appeals for fair play
Consider efforts to bring back sportsmanship, respect and tolerance, during the past three decades:
* Incentives - plaudits, trophies.
* Fair Play publicity - slogans, badges, pennants, banners, flags. 
* Fair Play armbands displayed by team captains.  
* Fair Play Days - "Respect the Referee".  
* Pre-match verbal pledges and  appeals by team captains, via microphones, at high profile matches.

All have failed to make any noticeable  improvement. Can we expect any progress with other similar, well meant but ineffective, peripheral campaigns? 

Enough is enough
When will someone at the IFAB and FIFA have the courage to shout "Enough is enough!" and act to stop the decline of "The Beautiful Game" into "Thugball" anarchy? This, and similar appeals, from loyal football folk, have floated around the world for years. But, considering the enormous investments which underpin the glamour industry of football; the self-interest of players; administrators and, it must be admitted, of some referees, the task is well nigh impossible.

Clearly the game cannot rely on swift and meaningful action from the top. What other means are there?

Patrick Collins says the answer lies with the referees. He is right, cites the laxity of our pro match officials and calls for more red cards. At that level, other factors influence this worthy aim, requiring a certain flexibility to avoid upsetting employers. However, that flexibility and its consequences, affects the whole game.  They, and all referees in recreational football games, are required to police the sport in strict accordance with the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game and IFAB instructions. In so doing they suffer regular verbal and physical abuse on and off the field.
Many grass roots referees leave the game, disillusioned after years of loyal service to our sport. The unpopular image of the referee makes recruitment extremely difficult.

Briefly then, the fans are not happy; players seek more freedom to impose their thug mentality; referees feel like a nut in a nutcracker; the dwindling force of match officials means shortages out on the parks.

Walk away.
What about you - the grass roots soldier in the front line? Can you do anything to help win the battle? Yes, you can! Charge from the trenches! Show the enemy your determination to change the current malaise in football; to regain its position as a noble, clean, healthy, and fair play sport.
But, I hear you say, what practical action can I  take to make a difference?
It's easy - just WALK AWAY!

Make the vow that whenever you get fed up with the lack of sportsmanship of players, or spectators, in your match;  when you feel that you have had enough - you will just WALK AWAY.

Before you do that you will have;

1. asked the captains (at the toss-up) if you can rely on them for any assistance you may need to ensure a sporting match,
2. advised them, during the play, of any problems which they can help you with e.g., calm players who appear to contest your decisions; cut out excessive force in challenges; foul language; respecting the 10 yards limit at free kicks without delay, etc.,
3. displayed yellow or red cards, as needed,
4. indicated your thoughts about unsporting behaviour from the touch-lines, which is nearing your tolerance limits; ask for support to control this problem,
5. told the coaches and captains that if such behaviour continues you will abandon the match.
6. seen no improvement and have displayed a yellow card as a caution to the culprits (players and/or spectators),
7. finally had enough, produced a red card - and put your whistle in your pocket.

Do not be a lone ranger. Discuss this suggestion with fellow referees on the leagues you whistle and agree to lower tolerance levels.  
Also discuss your views with the  leagues to agree a common policy to improving the sportsmanship among the clubs. They are anxious you continue to serve their needs.
Where co-operation is not forthcoming a few score of abandoned matches will prove more powerful than appeals.

All fair minded football folk will applaud your actions. 

A concerted campaign will spread until the powers-that-be accept that football suffers a terminal disease. Only major surgery can save the game.

Enough is enough - just WALK AWAY!

Stanley Lover  2013>


Stanley Lover's latest publication is a two-part guide. The first, SOCCER FAN , invites all members of the soccer family to know more about the basics of the laws of play, for greater enjoyment of the game. The second, Key Fair Play Partners, identifies the ten key members who can stimulate the vital principle of fair play in our sport. It proposes practical actions each member can contribute to keep soccer clean and healthy.
Available from     (Kindle ebooks/ SOCCER FAN plus Key Fair Play Partners) at 1.94.

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