World Cup fever? I'll be supporting the referees

9th June 2006 at 01:00
St George's flags flap wildly in the wind, flushed men argue in pubs about tactics and team selection and TV ads rouse patriotic feelings. Yes, I think there is a famous football tournament on the horizon. But it has got me thinking. Why do football players behave so badly?

Every time I see a poorly behaved side, I have flashbacks to the classroom.

Players' petulant looks as decisions go against them, crowding of the referee, the dissent shown to officials by managers - I have seen all this from disaffected pupils. I saw a lot of it as a trainee and believe it was a product of my own inexperience.

So what's the connection? I see the referee as a teacher with poor classroom management skills. He quietly accepts moderately bad behaviour - backchat, jostling - then blows his top by producing a yellow card for an offence that he previously tolerated from another player. With this sanction used, the referee now has no way to discipline a player without the overreaction of a red card. Players see the weakness in this system so tackle cynically and bully the referee to make decisions in their favour, knowing he doesn't want to use his only reasonable punishment too soon.

I have seen the same thing in school when, in an attempt to keep lessons flowing, teachers have tolerated moderately poor behaviour and then, with their patience exhausted, reached straight for the red card of shouting and asking senior management to remove the child from the classroom. The remaining children see it as unjust and misbehave further. Nothing inflames a child (or footballer) more than seeing similar offences dealt with differently or petty ones treated too harshly.

So how is it that some teachers are able to control a class seemingly effortlessly? I see these teachers as rugby referees. The game with the oval ball is far more civilised, with players showing little or no dissent when decisions go against them. This is due to its punishment structure; if a referee was crowded, a flurry of cards would be shown. The players know this so do not take the risk. Secondly, it is possible for a player to be sent to a sin bin for a limited time. This is a big disadvantage for a team but falls short of crippling their chances of winning - and of ruining the game for the spectators. Referees are more likely to use a "reasonable"

punishment and it becomes more effective.

Perhaps while the football is on the telly, teachers can think about what can be learnt from these spoilt millionaires' bad behaviour on the field and why the poor chaps in black are failing to stop it.

David Bloomfield taught secondary maths for three years and is now training to be a doctor

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