How many times have we heard that “industrial language” is part of the game? I’m not sure about you but I know of no industry that is steeped in as many foul mouthed expletives as it is in football. And with the plethora of cameras at most of the high profile games there is no avoiding the witnessing of a foul mouth tirade that is often, should I say “allegedly”, espoused by some of the games highest profile players. Pause a second. Who did you just think of?…….. Anywayne, anyone with half a brain and without need of any deep lip reading skills can see and comprehend exactly what is being said as it is being magnified into our living rooms.

But what the Terry/Ferdinand trial has now done is to inform everyone that yes there is swearing in OUR game but you have to consider the “context” and the “intent” of it. Well I’m pretty sure that if someone swears at me then I doubt very much that he is proposing to buy me a drink in the bar later. Worse still, someone using similar words to those supposedly used by Mr Terry now means that one cannot take immediate offence. This is just in case the person delivering that foul mouthed message was merely repeating something that he had heard previously from a third party about the intended recipient to the message! Excuse me while I clear my throat a moment! Now it seems, we have to say, “excuse me sir did you just aim those words at me, or were you merely repeating what you heard earlier from someone else? I need to be sure so that I know whether to take offence or not?”

Sadly it appears that only in football and due in the main to the proliferation of foul language within it, do we need to offer a tacit acceptance of the “way things are” and thereby require “context and intent” before understanding whether such language was used in a hateful or inciteful way.

I don’t understand why this “industrial language” has to be tolerated by anybody in the game. Certainly not by the clubs, the leagues, the football associations, the referees, the TV companies, the sponsors or indeed the fans. There are clearly enough stakeholders in the game to ensure that someone somewhere levies sanctions severe enough to make players (and managers) think twice before offering a volley of abuse at their fellow pros or the referees. There is no hiding place any more. You will be seen by somebody if you use foul and abusive language. In respect of the latter stakeholder – the referee, they have the laws of the game at their disposal to control such situations. Law 12 stipulates that “using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures” is a sending off offence. So why isn’t it consistently so in the professional game?

Certainly at the level where my fellow officials and I officiate there appears to be a harder line against this type of “abuse” and players are red carded. In the professional game however this does not happen and it is not because the referees aren’t any good. English referees are amongst the best in the world. However, imagine if a high profile player was sent off for using foul and abusive language and that consistency was applied throughout the leagues? We’d never finish any games as they’d be abandoned through not having enough players on the field. And who’d get lambasted? The referees would. The TV pundits would be first to comment of course, most of whom are ex-pros and often act as apologists for current players. “That’s a daft sending off by the referee. He’s spoilt the game. It’s the kind of thing that gets said in the heat of the moment” You can just see it can’t you?

Over the years fans have moderated their behaviour due to social pressure and the fear of sanctions (ejection from stadia, club bans etc). For players however the sanctions do not appear to offer any form of deterrent at all. It is here where the football associations need to step up. When matters go to court as they have done recently, then you are at the mercy of the interpretation of law and the inability to pass judgement in the event of there being any reasonable doubt. As we have seen in the case of John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, Mr Terry’s defence centred on creating said doubt. At any sport association level however you only need to assess reasonable intent or at the very least judge the situation on its merits without the need to scrutinise the situation in accordance to the law of the land but instead to the laws of the game. The football associations must therefore be seen to be maintaining the standards expected for everyone within the game.

Industrial language is of a bygone age. It cannot be used as an excuse any more. Players and managers need to stand up and accept the moral responsibility for our game. And no matter how many club executives are called to offer character references for the accused, there has to come a time when those in charge of football clubs say “hang on, I don’t actually agree with the way you have behaved so I won’t back you on this one. Take your medicine”. That’s a nice thought isn’t it? But in a world of self-interest, where the game is no longer about sport but about money and the preservation of value, I think I may be asking just a little too much.

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