Bullying is no official secret
AROUND 10 years ago, a referee came into the Shamrock Rovers reserve team's dressing-room to perform his usual pre-match checks and, as he was leaving, wanted to double-check the colours the team was wearing.
"Green and white lads yeah?" he asked while half-way out the door. "Yeah," came the manager's reply. "The same as the last 101 years."
Cue a smile from the referee and uproarious laughter from the players. Two hours later, things weren't so funny when two dreadful penalty decisions cost Rovers three points. There was only one person ever likely to have the last laugh.
But while making a referee look like an idiot in front of 20 people in a dressing-room is guaranteed to produce a negative reaction, haranguing, abusing and criticising them, at least in the Premier League, seems to guarantee a decision going your way sometime in the near future.
Three weeks ago, Kenny Dalglish laughably asserted that Liverpool were the victims of "contentious decisions in every one of our four league games", conveniently forgetting how they benefited from a couple of marginal offside calls against Arsenal the previous week.
It was a different story on Saturday when Liverpool made the most of an appalling decision by Martin Atkinson to send off Everton's Jack Rodwell. But while Dalglish's comments were unlikely to be in Atkinson's head as he reached for his red card, the wailing fast bowler-like appeals of Liverpool players in the vicinity of Luis Suarez certainly had an influence.
It didn't take Andre Villas-Boas long to cop on to the best way of deflecting blame while planting a seed in the heads of officials for the future when he decided to write to Mike Riley regarding the performance of the referee and his assistants for Chelsea's defeat at Old Trafford.
Ignoring his team's defensive lapses, Villas-Boas chose instead to focus on the marginal offside calls which went against his team so that the next time the same officials are in a similar situation, the memory of previous mistakes might see two wrongs making a right in Chelsea's favour.
Of course, the main reason why those decisions went against Villas-Boas was because his team were playing against the grand master of referee-influencing, Alex Ferguson. He has a litany of charges against him relating to comments about officials, all of whom know that, if they give a major decision against his team, even being 100pc right might not be enough to take them out of the purple-faced firing line.
Yet all of the pre- and post-match moaning is useless unless the players on the pitch can follow through with the pressure.
Charlie Adam and Lucas did it perfectly to help Atkinson make up his mind about Rodwell, Chelsea have John Terry and Ashley Cole, who should be given a whistle such is their desire to referee the game while, as if by magic, Ryan Giggs or Rio Ferdinand or another senior United player always manages to have a quiet word with the referee as everybody leaves the pitch at half-time.
Arsenal's players, in contrast, don't seem to be too bothered by bad decisions which is why, if you listen to their supporters, they seem to be getting so many.
In their 4-3 defeat to Blackburn, Yakubu scored a goal marginally offside but while Robin van Persie and Andre Santos put their hand up in an "an bhfuil cead agam?" type of way, when no decision came, there was a shrug and a stroll back to the half-way line.
Had it been Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra in the same situation, the goal would probably still have been given but such a volley of abuse would have come at the linesman that he would probably have thought twice next time. Again yesterday, Rafael van der Vaart seemed to control the ball with his arm in scoring Tottenham's opening goal but although Per Mertesaker made his feelings known, it wasn't to such an extent that the referee might later be tempted to even things up in Arsenal's favour.
It's unrealistic to expect referees not to be influenced by what's going on around them but nobody seems bothered about protecting them. Ferguson has been fined or banned from sitting in the dugout so often his contribution probably pays for the officials' end-of-season party, but unless the reprimand extends to either a points deduction or a suspension for one of his players, nothing will change.
For all the talk of a 'Respect' campaign, the reason why referees will continue to be harassed is because the perpetrators will get away with it and, more importantly, it seems to work. Once it's not done in the privacy of the dressing-room beforehand.