I am typing this whilst watching the highlights of yesterday’s Community Shield. (I was just wondering why they changed the name from Charity Shield – hilariously, it seems there was a question over how much of the proceeds were going to charity. So obviously the thing to do was to change the name.) I know the result because I caught sight of a headline on the BBC website which read ‘Ferguson fumes at ref after loss’. Not that I was all that bothered about finding out who won the game, which is after all a mere curtain-raising bauble which only counts as a ‘proper’ trophy if used to exaggerate the success of an already-successful team. In fact, it was nice to know in advance that the game had been hard-contested enough for Ferguson to bother moaning about the result, given the number of half-arsed Shields we’ve seen in recent years.
Yet moaning is a way of life for Ferguson, and whilst it is often entertaining (his recent obsession with illustrating how little he cares about Manchester City has livened up the football pages this summer), he is the worst offender where referees are concerned. This makes a mockery of the FA’s fully justified drive to improve respect for referees. First of all: despite some referees being tossers, refereeing looks a bloody difficult job to me. It’s always going to be difficult, and I personally have no interest in seeing the game slowed down by referring every contentious decision to video evidence. But just as importantly, listening to managers drone on about how poor refereeing has cost them the game is incredibly tedious. We could all write the quotes ourselves. Nothing changes as a result of any whinge – they just hang there. In theory they make good headlines, but surely they’re so commonplace now that you barely notice?
If the FA really wants to do something about this, then I have a modest proposal. (This began as a joke, but the more I think about it, the more I think it might be a genuinely good idea.) All rights holders for football coverage should have it written into their contracts that they’re not allowed to broadcast comments on referees by managers and players. If there’s been a bad decision, let the pundits discuss it with a degree of impartiality. Take away the oxygen of publicity. There’s not much you can do about them moaning to newspapers and websites – but taking away TV and radio interviews might help slow the process down, create fewer heat-of-the-moment comments and make ref-slamming less visible.
Of course, it might have a negative effect – this impotent arena for special pleading arguably serves as a pressure valve, and without it there might be even more simmering resentment towards officials. Although it’s hard to imagine how there could be more than there is.