There’s something very wrong with this photo.
There’s something very wrong with this photo.

Football’s disgusting disrespect


IN light of what happened between the Australian and Philippines basketball teams in Manila this week, it may seem trivial to criticise behaviour that didn't result in punches, kicks or even chairs being thrown.

But the fact those sickening scenes played out in a World Cup qualifier only highlights how important it is for football to address its most damning black eye - before we see the sort of violence the Boomers were confronted with in what is supposed to be the beautiful game.

Diving and the VAR have both been slammed in Russia - and rightly so - and while all the talk after the Round of 16 clashes this morning was about England banishing its demons by winning its first ever World Cup penalty shootout, something far more sinister also caught the eye.

Eight minutes into the second half the referee blew a penalty for England, ruling captain Harry Kane had been tackled, rugby style, to the turf while he waited for an incoming corner. England has complained about Kane being held off the ball from set pieces throughout the tournament and the whistleblower was on the lookout for anything untoward, pinging Carlos Sanchez and pointing to the spot.

What happened next was an example of the disgusting disrespect that for too long has been accepted in the football world - but needs to be stamped out.

The referee had no hesitation in showing Sanchez a yellow card. The 32-year-old followed the referee, begging him to change his mind - and he wasn't the only one. His teammates joined in, crowding the man in charge, getting in his face and trying to pressure him into reversing the decision.

Completely uncalled for.
Completely uncalled for.

Captain Radamel Falcao was there and even goalkeeper David Ospina rushed off his line to join the party. Within seconds of blowing the foul the referee was set upon by half-a-dozen players in yellow shirts.

He raised both his arms and told them to clear off, but do you think they listened? No, they continued to argue, because for some reason, jumping on the back of an opponent and pushing him to the ground when the ball is 40 metres away is an innocent act.

Falcao led the charge when Sanchez lost his voice. A handful of players refused to budge, putting their faces within inches of the referee's and again, more hand gestures were required to send them on their way. At one stage eight Colombians can be seen hounding the official all at once.

Falcao went silent so Sanchez continued to plead his case. He even had the gall to go up to Kane - with the ball tucked under his arm trying to get to the penalty spot - and shrug his shoulders, asking the England skipper what he thought he was doing.

Now, the referee wasn't the only target. England's players can't escape blame as they joined the fray when they shouldn't have. John Stones and Jordan Henderson were in the thick of it as tempers threatened to explode.

The needless confrontation saw Henderson yellow carded, which finally seemed to end the square-off.

Remarkably, the time between the penalty being called and Kane actually being able to convert his spot kick was an astonishing three-and-a-half minutes. It should have been less than 60 seconds.

No referee should have to deal with this.
No referee should have to deal with this.

The incident sparked an ugly trend that saw the match turn into a tinderbox. A spate of fouls followed and yellow cards were raised at will as both sides teetered on the edge. Former Socceroo Ned Zelic tweeted: "This game is out of control. A mess."

Former England international Chris Waddle - even accounting for his bias - wasn't far off with his post-game assessment.

"I'm glad Colombia are out because they are a disgrace to the game and this is the biggest show in the world. You don't want to see teams like that prosper," Waddle told the BBC.

"I hope Colombia get a massive fine for the cards and the way they surrounded the referee. It was a difficult game for the American referee and I think he was scared to make decisions.

"Colombia were supposed to be here to play football but I would've been gutted to see them go through."

England wasn't blameless and this is far from the only time a team has tried to intimidate a referee - it's just the most recent example of a disturbing reality that has become synonymous with the sport.

Football - at all age groups and levels - has a culture that accepts and breeds dissent. Speaking from first-hand experience where I've played in or watched junior games that have required security and seen parents and coaches sent from the field, it's no wonder the shameful behaviour has become embedded in a sport that should be above all this.

After all, a fish rots from the head, and when the game's elite players think they have the right to demean those responsible for implementing the rules, that attitude filters down.

Did Colombia seriously think yelling at the referee would make him see things differently? Did Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel think running up to the official's face and telling him he was wrong would make him reverse the most obvious penalty decision of the entire tournament against Croatia on Tuesday morning?

Yellow cards need to be automatic whenever a player gets in the face of a referee and there should be a 10m protected zone around officials whenever a call is made - a zone only the captain should be allowed to enter.

The behaviour we saw this morning is arrogant, disrespectful and a blight on the game. It needs to stop.