JAMES SHIELD: There must be a better way to moan

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WHEN, 26 years ago, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked Ted Croker, secretary of the FA, what steps his organisation were taking to combat violence he delivered a memorable response.

“These people are society’s problem and we don’t want your hooligans in our sport.”

Thatcher has long since departed her post and Croker passed away in 1992 but the sentiment remains the same. Our national game reflects what is going on in the wider world. Not foists problems on it.

Which is why, I fear, the governing body’s ’Respect’ campaign is doomed to fail despite being conceived with the best of intentions.

The idea, for those who have forgotten, was to usher in a new era of co-operation between those who watch or participate in the sport and the match officials whose presence allows them to do so. After a promising start, which saw several managers prefer to quietly fume rather than fulminate after finding themselves on the wrong end of a contentious decision, we have slipped back into our bad old ways.

So much so that, I fear, we are heading for the sort of impasse Scotland witnessed recently when referees, sick of the incessant criticism, balloted for a strike. Admittedly those who oversee, (or, to be more precise, their PR consultants) can often be their own worst enemies.

When Mark Clattenburg, bizarrely berated by Steve Kean for making a call that was, by the Blackburn manager’s own admission, ‘technically correct,’ took a break after some well-publicised errors of judgement, one of his colleagues was quoted as saying that a salary of around £80,000 a year was hardly worth the hassle.

‘Only’ £80,000? An unwise and ill-thought-out remark given that the vast majority of those who read it probably bank around a quarter of that amount. Many nurses, teachers and fire-fighters included.

But it should not be allowed to distract from the fact that, whoever uttered those words, had a point. Is a little politeness, consideration and empathy for a fellow human-being’s feelings too much to ask?

Trawl through the comment forums tagged to the bottom of many articles on the internet these days and the answer is probably ’yes.’ Faceless keyboard warriors, tapping away in their bedrooms and enjoying the anonymity of cyberspace, either love or hate.

The middle ground has been swept away by a tidal wave of invective. If folk can’t even behave like adults in their own homes then why should we expect them to do when they play to the crowd in a football stadium?