As I've mentioned before, given the choice between watching football or rugby union on TV, I have usually chosen the latter in recent times. So, it was no surprise that I had decided to watch England play Italy rather than the Manchester derby this afternoon. My younger son, however, was watching the soccer as I wandered into the lounge to collect something or another and, almost inevitably, I glanced at the TV screen at a time when the sort of incident which has put me off the game was taking place.
I can't recall his name - but, the City right back was charging down the right wing and although Paul Scholes was chasing as fast as his little legs would take him, he was fighting a losing battle and (as usually happens in these circumstances) the City player was dragged to the ground leaving the referee with little option other than to show the United veteran a yellow card.
Now, clearly, it isn't just Manchester United players who break the laws of the game. Jamie Carragher, of my own team Liverpool, for example, would be amongst the front-runners if the title of Master shirt-puller were ever created and, although there is a difference between 'fair' and 'unfair' fouling, the fact of the matter is that all fouls should be subjected to disciplinary action. What concerns me, however, is that referees seem to turn a blind eye to some infringements - until, that is, the offence is so blatant they have little alternative other than to blow their whistle.
The effect of this inconsistent behaviour is two-fold. For example, players are quick to recognise weak refereeing and tend to 'push their luck' to the absolute limit. Secondly, if and when a player is eventually penalised for a misdemeanour, it isn't unusual to see an aggressive and, all too often, obscene response - as Paul Scholes demonstrated during the aformentioned incident when he clearly told the referee to, "Fuck off."
Sadly, this sort of insolent disrespect towards officials is becoming the norm rather than the exception and, perhaps more than any other single issue, illustrates the difference between association football and rugby union - where the authority of the referee is absolute. Quite frankly, until this problem is addressed, I believe things will only get worse and, sooner or later, even the most blinkered soccer fans (and TV executives) will become disenchanted by behaviour which, at times, is little short of downright cheating.