I read a newspaper report the other day about how the S.F.A were making determined efforts to clean up Scottish football and threatening some players with lengthy suspensions because of their bad behaviour records. In a little over a month, sixteen players had been red-carded and the S.F.A’s Referee Committee was concerned about a lack of respect in the game. There were a couple of incidents of note - the sending off of a manager who had remonstrated with a referee during a league game and a Hearts game where seven players were booked - and six of them had launched an appeal against the decision. Now, dear reader, if you’re of my generation you may be shaking your head at this point and wishing some players would show more respect for authority like they did in football’s heyday in the 1960s. The more astute reader may read the above and think ‘hang on, this guy Smith is wrong - you can’t appeal against a booking, only a sending off’. However, before you write in, I should point out the newspaper report I was reading was dated September 9th - 1968.
This season has seen more than its fair share of unsavoury ‘incidents’ on and off the field of play. Celtic’s Neil Lennon and Rangers Ally McCoist literally went head to head at Celtic Park a few weeks ago. Earlier this month Aberdeen’s Craig Brown took obvious exception to something Motherwell chairman John Boyle said to him at the end of the game at Fir Park and chased him up the tunnel. Brown’s reaction may have been deemed unacceptable but I have to say I was more surprised by the speed he went after the Motherwell supremo - not bad for a 70 year old! Down south, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney thought it smart to celebrate scoring against West Ham by aiming a foul-mouthed tirade towards a touch line cameraman. The England player was subsequently banned for two games and the former Evertonian who once displayed a tee shirt declaring ‘Always a Blue’ complained he was being treated unfairly. Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp opined he remembered United legend Bobby Charlton hitting the back of the net with ferocious shots yards from goal decades ago but couldn’t recall the man who helped United win the European Cup in 1968 ever celebrating by swearing on camera.
Many older supporters hark back to days when the game was less money-orientated and more respect was shown for those in authority. However, it’s easy to look back and believe football has always been a gentleman’s game. I’m loathe to mention the 1966 World Cup for obvious reasons but when England defeated Argentina their manager Alf Ramsay instructed his players not to shake hands or swap shirts at the final whistle, deeming the Argentine players ‘animals’ for what he perceived to be brutal behaviour during the game.
STV has recently shown an excellent documentary series called The Football Years. One of the programmes covered the infamous Celtic-Atletico Madrid European Cup semi-final first leg tie at Celtic Park in 1974 which ended in a goalless draw but was marked, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the disgraceful behaviour of the Atletico players, three of whom were sent off as they kicked anything that moved and left Celtic player Jimmy Johnstone covered in bruises. The ensuing brawl involving players and officials in the players tunnel at the end of the game was branded ‘disgraceful’ by the television commentator. 37 years later one of the Celtic players that night - John ‘Dixie’ Deans - spoke of how Strathclyde police had to restrain one of the Atletico players outside the away dressing room - while one or two Celtic players were ‘encouraged’ to dish out their own brand of retaliation on the way past. The Spaniards claim the following day of brutality in Glasgow doesn’t seem quite so incredulous now!
Football has always had its bad boys. Referees have always had their decisions questioned. It’s easy to think this is a modern phenomenon but as that newspaper report from nearly forty-three years ago showed, football’s governing body in Scotland was concerned about a lack of respect even during the swinging sixties. The amount of money in football nowadays means it’s a huge business with so much at stake - it’s no longer just a game. Perhaps it’s fanciful to think players and officials could show there is humorous side to this business.
Such as when a well known Scots player who once asked a referee what would happen if he called him a fecking idiot. The referee looked at him and replied he would have to send him off for foul and abusive language. The player then asked what would happen if he only thought the referee was a fecking idiot. The somewhat bemused ref retorted there was nothing he could do about that, as he wasn’t a mind reader.
‘In that case then’ said the player with a cheeky grin, ‘I think you’re a fecking idiot….’