After John Terry trial is it time to put an end to swearing in football?

Is there too much swearing in football, and is there anything that can be done about it? Darren Devine spoke to referees to ask if the culture of the game needed to change.

It’s a scene repeated on TV screens in pubs and homes across the country almost every weekend during the football season.

The camera falls on the angry face of a footballer charging towards a referee while the watching nation lip reads the plethora of profanities spewed into the official’s face.

John Terry

But is it inevitable? Or can football, just as it did when it prioritised tacking racism, go some way towards removing the swearing that now seems as much a part of its culture as hot pies and woolly hats?

Westminster Culture Minister and qualified referee Jeremy Hunt believes the level of abuse revealed in the John Terry racism trial means it’s now time to try.

Mr Terry was cleared of allegations that he had was guilty of racial abuse by calling Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand a “f****** black c***” during a match on October 23 last year.

But the Chelsea captain’s language, as revealed during the trial has led to a bout of soul-searching in the sport and outside.

Mr Hunt said something must be done about swearing as footballers need to set an example for young people.

He told ITV’s Daybreak: “I do know a little bit about this because I’m a qualified football referee. I’ve been at the receiving end of it and I do think that it has gone too far.

“I would like to see the football authorities do more because I think we just have to recognise that football has huge influence on thousands and thousands of young people and we do need footballers to set an example.”

Clive Thomas, who was one of British football’s highest profile officials in the 1970s and 80s, said the expletive-laden language that’s now endemic was almost unheard of in his day.

Mr Thomas, 75, who was dubbed ‘The Book’ for his hardline approach to applying the game’s laws, said: “It didn’t happen in my day. I’ve never in any game throughout my career heard that type of language I heard between Terry and Ferdinand.

“Never in my career. I wouldn’t have allowed it to go that far. I’d have stopped the game and said, ‘Right, stop it or you’re off!”

Retired referee Graham Poll has told how Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney once swore at him 27 times in a live TV game at Highbury.

The player infamously swore into a camera after scoring a hat-trick at West Ham.

Mr Thomas, from Porthcawl, believes standards of behaviour on the football field are a microcosm of what’s happened in society.

In an age of declining standards where authority figures like teachers and the police struggle to command the respect they once took for granted the same erosion of values has occurred in sport.

“There’s a complete disrespect from people for each other. Forget the football field if you want to.

“Society has asked for this 15 to 20 years ago. I can see it in the total disrespect for police and school teachers,” said the retired official.

Mr Thomas says football referees have the power to punish bad language with a red card under ‘Law 12’, but a culture of tolerance has taken root in the game.

Tackling abusive language in football now would be a big job, but it can be done, he said.

Attitudes towards referees in rugby, where officials get far greater respect, are often contrasted with those of football.

In rugby players are often seen accepting controversial decisions with the kind of perfect grace rarely witnessed on a football field.

One theory is that the public school background of many rugby union players compared to footballers’ often humbler roots accounts for the difference in attitudes.

But Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens points out that here in Wales and in parts of Ireland rugby is a working class game, but respect for the referee is just as prevalent as in England.

Mr Owens, 41, believes the explanation is far simpler – rugby referees are much quicker to act if confronted with verbal abuse from players.

He said: “Swearing at officials, in particular, on the rugby field is not tolerated by the match officials.

“If a player does swear at an official then he’s dealt with within the laws of the game and that could be a penalty, a warning, a yellow card or a sending off.”

But Mr Owens, from Carmarthenshire, said judgements must be made on the context of any outburst.

If a player annoyed at himself for making a mistake swears in frustration at no-one in particular without targeting an opponent or an official this may be handled with a simple warning.

“If a player swears at a teammate saying, ‘Come on for **** sake get on with the game’ that is not an issue as long as it’s not so loud that people hear it,” said Mr Owens.

Phillip Bates, 47, a football referee in the Welsh League and the Gwent Counties League for 23 years, said several years back when the game introduced its ‘Respect’ campaign behaviour towards officials improved.

But Mr Bates, from Monmouthshire, admitted “it’s slipping back again”.

He said he’s dismissed players more than 10 times in his more than two-decade long career for swearing.

“It’s greeted with disbelief by players (when you send them off for swearing).

“They say, ‘You can’t send me off for that’. They’ll even go down the avenue of pleading, ‘I didn’t swear. I didn’t say anything’.

“It’s like they are oblivious to their own verbal abuse.”

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Article source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/need-to-read/2012/07/16/swearing-in-football-is-it-time-to-say-enough-s-enough-91466-31408610/