THE FESTERING row enveloping referee Mark Clattenburg should act as a wake-up call for football to stop and take a look at itself, because matters on the pitch have got out of control.
I will be gobsmacked if it transpires that Clattenburg has stepped over the line and said something inappropriate, let alone racist, to one of Chelsea’s players. Racism is utterly abhorrent and there should be zero tolerance at all levels, but while there is an investigation under way he should be treated as innocent until proven guilty.
In the meantime it draws attention to the increasingly fractious nature of referee-player relations, in which the officials routinely get a far harder time than when I was a professional. Referees are verbally abused and subjected to aggressive behaviour over the slightest decision. Players are influenced by their managers, who accuse officials of incompetence or worse, bias, and kids are copying. Pressure on and scrutiny of referees has been building, and when players contend every call for 90 minutes it must be wearing.
Rugby union, where players accept referees’ decisions, has got it right. We’ve reached the tipping point; clubs, players and the Football Association have to stop the abuse of officials.
Trevor Steven is a former England international who now works as a media commentator.