Friday, October 05, 2012

Who's The £&@! In The Middle?

Referees. Umpires. Match officials.

Call them what you want, there's no game without them.

Sometimes though, you do wonder what would make someone want to take it up as a career, or even a hobby for that matter.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Halsey had the temerity to send off Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey in his side's highly-charged local derby against Manchester United. Halsey has only recently returned to top flight refereeing after recovering from cancer, while his wife Michelle continues to undergo treatment for the disease.

Without minutes social networking sites were buzzing. Nothing unusual there, a key decision in a high profile game between two well supported teams is always going to cause a lot of comment and controversy.

What was more unusual - and worrying in this case - is the content of some of the messages seen on Twitter, including ones wishing that both Halsey and his wife would have died of cancer. Irrespective of the passions inspired by the game, there can be no excuse for that level of vile personal abuse.

Yet who amongst us, as a sports fan, hasn't sat or stood in a stadium and said or sung something derogatory about a match official? I know I have, and I'm not proud of it.

It's not just at the elite level either. No matter how much campaigns like Respect might try to improve the lot of grass roots match officials there are still plenty of cases of abuse and violence against them both by players and spectators. So why do people do it?

Simply, their love of the game overrides any negative experiences they may have. It keeps them coming back for more, either at grass roots level or as they move up the officiating pyramid towards the elite level.

Without them, we would have no professional sport to support. We owe them a debt of gratitude, not abuse.

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