If Ferguson keeps getting away with abusing our referees even 10-year-olds will start to copy him
08:03 GMT, 28 December 2012
During a difficult few weeks for Mark Clattenburg earlier this season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s support, and indeed his implied criticism of the referee’s accusers at Chelsea, was helpful.
For all the noise that surrounds English football, when Ferguson speaks people tend to listen.
This is precisely why, however, the Manchester United manager’s behaviour during his team’s tense 4-3 victory over Newcastle on Boxing Day was so unhelpful when the gap between those who play the game and those who try to keep order seems to be widening.
Cleared: Sir Alex Ferguson will face no action after complaining to referee Mike Dean on Saturday
Ferguson’s primary responsibility is to his football club, of course.
If he feels — as he did two days ago —
that a referee’s decision has gone against his team, then he is quite
within his rights to say so.
There are, however, ways and means,
and his haranguing of referee Mike Dean and his colleagues in the wake
of Newcastle’s controversial second goal at Old Trafford saw him
standing squarely on the wrong side of the line.
Players, remember, take their lead
from their manager. Supporters take theirs from the team. And so it goes
on, all the way down the football food chain until the 10-year-old on
the park verbally abuses the referee of his Saturday morning game.
Fuming: Ferguson tells assistant referee Jake Collin exactly what he thinks of the decision to allow Jonny Evans' own goal
Heart-racing: United struck late to go seven points clear at the top of the league
The connection — indeed, the
responsibility — really is that straightforward. It is four years since
the FA launched their ‘Respect’ campaign in an effort to encourage
tolerance, understanding and dialogue between all parties. In the
interim, nothing has fundamentally changed and here was the evidence.
Ferguson is not alone. Football’s
ill-treatment of its officials is so well established as to be almost a
tradition and the likes of Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes and Alan Pardew have
all been notable offenders. Indeed, an hour after the Scot pursued Dean
on to the field after half-time in Manchester, his rival from across
town Roberto Mancini accused referee Kevin Friend of eating too much
Jibe: Roberto Mancini jokingly accused referee Kevin Friend (right) of eating too much over the Christmas period
A throwaway gag, perhaps, but one
designed to embarrass and question the man who had overseen City’s
defeat at Sunderland at a time when the Italian should perhaps have been
asking questions closer to home.
It all looked and sounded rather ugly
and yesterday brought no relief as we discovered, to nobody’s
surprise, that Ferguson’s behaviour would not form part of Dean’s report
to the FA.
This is the bit where responsibility needs to be shared a little.
Dean, by all accounts, believes
Ferguson didn’t cross the line of what is acceptable when he entered the
field before the start of the second half to complain about Newcastle’s
goal. Why is this In moments like this, one of the Premier League’s
most experienced and respected officials should be brave enough to set
Slap on wrist: Tony Pulis was fined for comments made about referee Lee Probert's performance in November
As for Ferguson’s subsequent
badgering of linesman Jake Collin and fourth official Neil Swarbrick,
Dean apparently didn’t see it as his back was turned. Why, though,
didn’t one of them tell him They wear microphones and earpieces for precisely these moments.
Why, also, did Collin or Swarbrick
not inform Dean that Ferguson spent much of a fractious second period
standing yards outside his technical area These matters are clearly
Perhaps they, too, were caught up in
the emotion of the afternoon. Maybe their minds become scrambled and
poor decisions are the result. Or maybe they are nervous about upsetting
Ferguson. Old Trafford is the grandest domestic setting in English
football and all officials crave the opportunity to work there. Those
who have upset the United manager have sometimes waited a while to
Martin Atkinson, for example, annoyed
Ferguson during an FA Cup loss to Portsmouth in March 2008. Ferguson
was charged by the FA for his post-match comments (he was later cleared)
but the real victim was the official, who was not asked to work at Old
Trafford again until the very end of that year.
Fury: Ferguson was left enraged about a decision made against his team in their 2008 defeat to Portsmouth but he still escaped with no reprimand for his actions
Certainly, this is key to the issue.
Our referees and their assistants must take charge of the big games on
the big stages confident that their performances, rather than people’s
reactions to them, will count when the next match lists are being put
On Boxing Day, Ferguson didn’t cover himself in glory but neither, it must be said, did Dean.
The majority of his decisions were
correct — including the one he made in awarding the controversial Newcastle goal — but it looks from the outside as though he allowed
Ferguson to go too far in the moments before the start of the second
half and has therefore done the game, and his profession, a disservice.
Support: Ferguson fully backed Mark Clattenberg after he was accused of abusing John Mikel Obi last month
Ferguson, for his part, knows how
great is his responsibility. He probably won’t have enjoyed looking at
the replay on Wednesday night.
His sympathy for Clattenburg earlier this season was genuine. He did his bit.
In the heat of battle on a wet
Manchester Wednesday this Christmas, though, the United manager lost his
way a little and those paid to keep him, and all the others, in check
have now allowed him to get away with it.