THERE are very few walks of life in which it is considered acceptable to approach a bloke trying to do his job – who may well be a complete stranger – and tell him to “f--- off”.
But apparently professional soccer remains the last bastion of bad manners.
At least that is all Sporting Declaration can deduce after the reaction this week to the send-off and one-game suspension imposed on Newcastle Jets marquee signing Ronny Vargas.
For those who missed it, the Venezuelan copped two yellow cards in last week’s 2-1 loss to Melbourne City at AAMI Park.
The first occurred after what appeared a fairly blatant professional foul, when Vargas tripped an opponent who was threatening to launch a City attack. The second was more debatable.
With Newcastle players crammed in their penalty box to defend a corner, a flinching Vargas wore the ball at high speed on his arm and referee Kurt Ams immediately blew his whistle to award a penalty.
What transpired next has been the subject of some conjecture. But it is beyond dispute that Ams issued a second yellow/red card, and Vargas verbally abused him, although the chronology of these two actions is in dispute.
Either way, Jets fans seem convinced Vargas was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. If the second yellow was for the handball, they believe the player was entitled to blow up.
If, as A-League officials have stated, Ams was simply reacting to Vargas’s F-bomb, then supporters are querying why serial offenders at rival clubs have not been similarly treated.
Whatever the case, sympathy for the referee has been almost non-existent, which perhaps speaks volumes about soccer’s ingrained culture.
This, of course, is not an isolated incident. Few sports show such little respect for the match officials as the round-ball code.
Just consider, as an example, the manner in which superstars of the English Premier League erupt when a decision goes against their team. Instantly they will swarm around the whistle-blower, berating and intimidating him. The bigger the player’s reputation, the more likely he is to go ballistic – Wayne Rooney being a notorious culprit.
On the rare occasion a referee punishes such dissent with a yellow or red card, somehow it’s as if he is the one in breach of the rules.
Compare this to other codes.
Rugby league refs simply don’t tolerate such nonsense. They will penalise a team for back chat, march them an extra 10 metres and, if necessary, sin-bin the offender.
Group outbursts result in harsh sanctions, such as in 2015, when Canterbury forwards James Graham and David Klemmer copped three-game bans for their joint tirade aimed at Gerard Sutton – the likes of which are almost a weekly occurrence in soccer.
Moreover, the NRL has significant deterrents in place for coaches who feel inclined to deliver diatribes at their post-game media conferences.
Clubs have been fined up to $50,000 for comments about referees and/or the judiciary. Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has racked up $125,000 in his career alone.
In comparison, Jets coach Ernie Merrick was fined $1500 after he claimed a “disgraceful refereeing performance” cost his team victory against Western Sydney last season.
Merrick was justifiably miffed recently when Wellington coach Mark Rudan escaped sanction after he described the man with the whistle as “a mockery … an absolute joke” and implied there was a preconceived bias against his team.
“Nothing goes our way,” Rudan said. “Everything goes against us because no one wants us around.”
Even little-known support staff apparently feel entitled to have their say.
During Newcastle’s 2-all draw with Brisbane last week, goalkeeping coach Chris Bowling was red-carded for abusing match officials at half-time.
He served a one-match ban for his brain explosion.
Compare that to the $20,000 Roosters coach Trent Robinson was fined for approaching referee Ben Cummins at half-time during a game in 2016.
It is perhaps understandable that the Jets have less than total confidence in the people responsible for enforcing the rules, given the VAR debacle that cruelled them in last season’s grand final. But what’s that old saying about swings and roundabouts?
A week earlier, in the semi-final, Newcastle received a favourable call from the VAR after Melbourne City’s Daniel Arzani appealed for a penalty.
And what would the VAR have made, had it been around, of the James Holland handball late in Newcastle’s 2008 grand final win against Central Coast?
Should it have been a penalty that changed the course of A-League history?
The bottom line is that some calls go your way, some don’t.
Just remember, too, that soccer players flaunt the rules on a weekly basis, tugging on opponents’ shirts, diving if they think they can win a penalty. It’s the only sport I know that had to introduce a rule for “simulation”.
Referees, like players, will inevitably make mistakes. When they do, they deserve more support than those who choose to abuse them.