Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

A Game of Two Halves

Published Saturday 13 August, 2011

It's one minute to go in a very tense Premiership battle towards the end of the season. Top versus bottom. A complacent team of visitors (last season's Premiership Champions) are winning, but only just. The relegation-fighting hosts are awarded a penalty! Salvation beckons.

With the ref signalling for the penalty, one of the attacking side's forwards is heard to say: "About f*****g time Ref!"

The Referee immediately reverses his decision and awards a free kick to the defending side for the use of foul language. The ball is cleared; the final whistle is blown, as are the hosts' chances of avoiding a last-match struggle for survival.  

But there was no violent, verbal reaction from the losing players. No physical or verbal hounding of the Referee. No (more) swearing at the Official. The players shook hands with their opposite numbers and even queued up to clap their opponents off the field.

The 12,000 crowd (fuelled by alcohol served all over the ground before and throughout the game) cheered them all off with no foul chanting and not a hint of threatening behaviour. And all the couple of coppers on duty at the game had to worry about was getting the cars out of the car parks and on their way home.

"This couldn't possibly happen at a Football match", I hear you say.

It didn't. It happened at a match a couple of seasons ago between Worcester Warriors and Leicester Tigers in the (then) Guinness Rugby Premiership.

Another Barclays Premiership Season starts today. Some of the richest people in the World have now perfected the art of swearing into doing it down the camera lens and into homes where millions of children are watching their role models perform; such antics to be copied by rote in classrooms all over Britain on Monday morning. We are to be treated to watching them physically and verbally abusing the symbol of authority on the pitch safe in the knowledge they will get away with it. We will see wrong refereeing decisions fuelling vein-bulging anger in players and in an already tribally separated, threatening crowd.

So could Rugby teach Football a few things about setting a better example on the pitch when it comes to respecting authority? A top rugby player lays his body on the line every week. He is paid in a year what his footballing counterpart receives in a week. He is just as motivated; just as passionate. A rugby crowd is just as partisan and committed.

But only the team captain in Rugby queries a refereeing decision. Backchat is punished by the infringing side surrendering a further ten yards for the free kick, even to the point where a penalty becomes kickable for three points. Wouldn't it be delicious to see the antics by some footballers this weekend punished in this way, maybe leading to a penalty!

The use of a ten-minute sin bin is widespread in Rugby. 14 players rarely keep the score level during that time. Punishment hurts there and then. Oh for that in the National Game now blighted by diving and cheating!

Rugby players call the referee "Sir" and win, lose or draw line up to applaud the opposition off at the end of the match. Wouldn't football-watching crowds benefit from this example of respect for authority and one's opponent?   

And lastly, please can we introduce a modicum of technology into the so-called Beautiful Game? Tries are regularly decided by the video-ref in Rugby. Far from it frustrating the crowd, the replays are shown to them and they become better informed (not inflamed). They understand the decision. They can be trusted not to ransack the place if the decision goes against their team. Is football just frightened?

Football has a great opportunity to play its part in re-establishing respect for authority in our Country. We will see if it chooses to take it - starting today.