There is a pattern to this referee abuse

Jose Mourinho is no enemy of football. Chelsea are about to win the league for the first time in 50 years and are serious contenders in the Champions League, Bayern Munich permitting.

Mourinho’s team have played with a discipline, both tactical and temperamental, not always evident in the past successes of Manchester United and Arsenal.
Anyone accusing him of the darker arts clearly was not around when the Chelsea of Peter Osgood beat Don Revie’s Leeds United in the replayed 1970 FA Cup final.

That was Machiavelli taking on the Marquis de Sade, compared to which Mourinho is as much of a black magician as Tommy Cooper. Mourinho is sharp rather than lethal.

Nevertheless one of Europe’s leading referees, the Swede Anders Frisk, has been forced into early retirement in the aftermath of what Mourinho said after Chelsea lost 2-1 to Barcelona at Camp Nou, when he claimed Frisk spoke to the opposition coach, Frank Rijkaard, at half-time.

Like a high court judge, Mourinho is a wise man who sometimes says silly things. If only he could acquire the post-match dignity of his predecessor Claudio Ranieri, though without Ranieri’s tinkering.

Though Mourinho should not be held directly responsible for Frisk’s decision to give up refereeing, managers and coaches clearly need to be more guarded than ever in their post-match comments.

Fox-hunting with hounds may have been banned but so far no government has got around to outlawing the hounding of football referees, which is becoming a matter for serious concern. While referees are denied the assistance of modern technology on the pitch, they are increasingly becoming its victims off it.

Frisk could live with being hit by a coin thrown by a spectator during a Champions League game between Roma and Dynamo Kiev, but the avalanche of hate that overwhelmed him following the later match was something else.

There is a sinister pattern here. For a frightened Frisk read a persecuted Urs Meier, the Swiss referee who disallowed Sol Campbell’s last-minute header against Portugal last year that would have won England a place in the European Championship semifinals.

Meier ruled that John Terry had impeded the Portuguese goalkeeper. England coach Sven Goran Eriksson expressed mild disappointment but the media’s condemnation of Meier was more forceful.

Meier’s personal telephone number and e-mail address appeared in the English press and he suffered the Frisk experience with knobs on. The referee received more than 16 000 e-mails alone, including death threats, and was placed under police protection.

It is difficult to believe that the unpleasantness that Frisk has suffered did not have its roots in the verbal mauling of Meier, and the section of the English media that instigated it has much to answer for.

Referees have always been fair game for crowd-baiting although it has usually stopped at the final whistle. In the good old days at the Den it was not unusual for a ref to be chased down Cold Blow Lane, but the hunt was called off before it reached the Old Kent Road.

Things took a more serious turn in 1967 when Norman Burtenshaw was attacked by a fan as he left the pitch after one game at the Den. League referees thought about going on strike for better protection, but decided against it.

In 1992, Roger Wiseman, a referee who had been assaulted at Birmingham, withdrew from the league list for the rest of that season because of mental stress. Five years later Mike Reed gave Chelsea a disputed penalty in an FA Cup tie against Leicester City and that evening was verbally slaughtered on a radio phone-in show by Danny Baker. The Beeb did not approve and put the phone down on Baker.

In the immediate aftermath of a match, emotions can run high and now more than ever managers need to watch their words when criticising match officials.

Maybe one day a football manager who has roundly castigated a referee will realise, after watching the TV replay, that he is wrong and be big enough to own up.

Something along the lines of: “I have to admit the referee had a better game than I thought. I’ve got to hold my hands up. I was wrong. The tension in the heat of the battle must have affected my judgement.”

In fact these words did appear in print in February 1991. The referee was John Martin. And the manager? Alex Ferguson. — Â

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