Derby County
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Blackburn RoversBlackburn Rovers
Newcastle UnitedNewcastle United
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Respect for authority?

Not for the first time, the vocal - if inarticulate - minority of knuckle-dragging cretins who masquerade as football fans have exacted a telling impact upon the game.

Anders Frisk, an able and respected referee, fell victim to an internet campaign to hound him for the perceived injustices that he inflicted upon Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League match against Barcelona in the Nou Camp. Not content with voicing their displeasure from the terraces, vile, threatening emails arrived in Mr Frisks' in-box from Chelsea 'fans', the tone and content of which alarmed the Swedish official into calling time on a distinguished career.

'The things that have happened in the last 16 days have simply made refereeing not worth it anymore,' Frisk explained. 'The threats have been escalating every day [and] this is a battle I cannot win. I feel like a hunted animal and I don't want a life like that. You never know what these people might do. I just hope that the threats will stop now that I am not refereeing anymore.'

One-nil, then, to the thugs; a defeat that should sadden all concerned with football.

Frisk was often lampooned for his showy style and has on occasion been criticised for seeming to enjoy being at the centre of things on the big stage. But beyond the sunbed tan and out-of-a-bottle golden mane, he was an accomplished arbiter of the game, as evidenced by the high regard with which he was held within Uefa (Volker Roth, Uefa's referees' chief personally implored the Swede to change his mind but to no avail).

Coming a matter of months after he felt compelled to abandon another Champions League match between Roma and Dynamo Kiev when a well aimed lighter thrown from the terraces had slashed open his forehead, it is little wonder Frisk has had enough.

And so the blame game begins; with most of the raised fingers pointing firmly in the direction of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. Mourinho, you will remember, accused his Barcelona counterpart, Frank Rijkaard, of having a clandestine meeting with Frisk at half-time during the match in question. He went on to further criticise the way Frisk subsequently handled the game, particularly the sending off of Didier Drogba.

Chelsea have, properly, distanced themselves from those who perpetrated the attacks on Frisk and offered to act on any evidence of their fans' misbehaviour. But it is not difficult to imagine that, had Mourinho not chosen to so publicly vilify the referee, the flames of indignation would have smouldered down to ash rather than been fanned to this ultimately destructive heat.

For all his stylish charm, razor sharp - yet sugar coated - putdowns, inventive aphorisms and towering self-confidence, on this occasion, Mourinho lost his much admired cool, along with a throng of admirers.

He may have breathed life into the Premiership, crafted an astonishing team and almost single handedly rescued the football press conference from its vapid, cliché ridden nadir, but even 'the special one', it seems, is as graceless as the next manager or player when it comes to match officials.

Anders Frisk fell victim of a hate campaign from some Chelsea fans.
Anders Frisk fell victim of a hate campaign from some Chelsea fans.

Uefa did not count among the varied charges they levelled against both manager and club, in the fall-out from the fractious encounter, a specific censure for his ill-chosen post match comments, though the implications, as born out by Frisk's regrettable if understandable decision, were clearly more damaging to the sport's image than taking to the pitch in a slovenly fashion.

So there is something of being wise after the event in the indignation that led Roth to brand Mourinho the 'enemy of football'.

Not renowned for being quick on the uptake, at least Europe's governing body have now been forced into taking the issue of widespread lack of respect for match officials seriously; and this, hopefully, will be the lasting, positive impact of the whole sorry affair.

'We will not allow the slandering of match officials to become part of pre-match tactics,' said Lars-Christer Olsson, Uefa's chief executive, barely audible for the sound of a stable door being slammed shut and horses hooves trailing off into the distance.

'Everyone involved in the game should therefore think twice before uttering provocative remarks that could be construed by others as inciting trouble. It is wholly unacceptable that a top international referee, someone who has officiated with great dignity and integrity at the highest end of the game, is pressured into retiring in this way.'

Nods of agreement all round. But curing football of such an endemic practice as chastising referees will take more than a few well chosen words. Real sanctions must be considered and unflinchingly implemented and, as ever with the game's authorities, they will need to be seen to be believed.

The language of blame peppers every post match interview, with referees as the most common, and convenient, guilty party. That penalty that never was; the sending-off that changed the game; the over fussy or too lenient approach; all these things are 'decisions that lose managers their jobs'. And that's before we've touched upon the thorny issue of consistency (it's all they're looking for at the heart of the matter).

Referees make mistakes; there is no escaping that truth, and they should not be above reproach for their actions on the pitch. But a culture has grown up around the game now that places such great importance upon the award or otherwise of free-kicks and penalties that the erroneous phrase 'he knows that if he lets him into the box he can't tackle him' has entered the football commentator's lexicon this season.

Jose Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard: Unlikely to feature on each others' Christmas card list.
Jose Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard: Unlikely to feature on each others' Christmas card list.

The simple truth is that if a side draws a match 0-0 but is denied a debateable penalty in the last minute, there were 89 more where they weren't doing their job very well. And if Mourinho feels that Frisk made it difficult for him that night in Spain, imagine how hard a string of top class referees had to work to pick through the deceit and lies of Porto's theatrics on route to the Portuguese's first European trophy, the Uefa Cup, the season before last.

Referees need support - be it video technology, direction from the governing bodies, or a touch of honest sportsmanship from the players on the pitch; instead of being showered with vile invective from a crowd of menacing hoodlums (Rooney, Prutton, Mills anyone?) - rather than lazy condemnation from managers trying to cover up their own teams', and by extension their own, inadequacies.

Fining serial offenders for bringing the game into disrepute is one option but, to the clubs at the top of the pile, this is no deterrent. Real punishment involving the docking of points, if put in place before the season's commencement, for players and managers unfairly abusing officials would help concentrate the minds of those concerned and end the petty recriminations overnight.

Managers have the right to disagree with decisions that TV evidence prove to have been incorrectly awarded against them, but the ritual scapegoating of referees serves no-one.

'Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don't; that's football' is a common refrain when questionable decisions prove to be advantageous. Furnish overworked officials with as much assistance as possible, and afford them a little bit of respect, and perhaps this pragmatic view could be applied in all circumstances.

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