It was shaping up to be an awful day for Manchester United. We faced West Ham away, four points ahead of second-placed Arsenal, and went 2-0 down courtesy of two Mark Noble penalties within the first 25 minutes. Everything that could go wrong did.
West Ham never lay down when United are in town, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic didn’t help, giving away penalties for handball and a foul.
Having equalled Liverpool’s title haul of 18 two seasons earlier, United were chasing number 19, but had been embarrassed 3-1 at Anfield a few weeks earlier. Javier Hernandez scored a 90th minute consolation goal in a game that saw Dirk Kuyt put three past Edwin Van der Sar.
On the horizon were the Champions League quarter-final games against Chelsea, as well as the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, and it felt like it was all going to pot at Upton Road.
Wayne Rooney had been particularly awful in the first half but in the final 25 minutes he turned the game around. He scored a hattrick in less than 15 minutes and United were ahead.
After the third goal went in, Rooney turned to celebrate, and a Sky Sports cameraman ran on to the pitch and shoved the camera in Rooney’s face. “What?!” Rooney shouted, his arms outstretched. “Fucking what?!”
He had likely been even more frustrated than the supporters with his performance for much of the game and was as relieved as any of us when he turned that defeat in to a win.
Rooney was in the wrong though. He shouldn’t have sworn in to the camera. But his emotions got the better of him. After the game, he released a statement apologising and we expected he would be fined for his behaviour.
The FA decided to ban Rooney for two matches though, after being charged with using “offensive, insulting and/or abusive language”.
Referee Lee Mason did not hear or see the swearing but in his match report claimed he would have sent Rooney off if he had. As a result, Rooney missed our semi-final, and with 10 men we lost to City at Wembley. Dimitar Berbatov had a mare and City ended their 35-year trophy drought in the final.
On the same day as our win over West Ham, Pepe Reina was seen saying “No way, no fucking way,” to referee Martin Atkinson. The referee undoubtedly heard this but did not send him off and he did not include the incident in his match day report. Reina wasn’t charged with using “offensive, insulting and/or abusive language” either. In fact, nobody else was that season. Or the seasons since?
The FA’s Respect Campaign was all the rage at the time and so you might argue that Reina swearing at a referee was more offensive that Rooney swearing in celebration after scoring a hattrick, but the FA didn’t see it that way.
The following weekend, when referee Mason took charge of Blackpool’s game against Arsenal, Charlie Adam was clearly seen on screen shouting “fuck off!” after he got fouled. Weirdly, Mason didn’t send him off and the FA didn’t later bring charges for his “offensive, insulting and/or abusive language” after seeing it on the telly.
The obvious response to all of this is that Rooney used fouled language directly in to the camera, while other players, every week, use the same language in the direction of other players and the ref without looking down Sky Sports camera while doing so. I get it. But nowhere in the football law that Rooney was charged with does it mention that. If there was a caveat saying it was cool to swear at the match officials and opponents, but not at the camera, then fair enough. But either enforce the law, or don’t. To pick and choose when players get charged for breaking the same rule is ridiculous.
The latest instructions given to Premier League referees is that if someone breaks this football law, they should be sent off. Can you remember the last time a player got sent off for swearing at an official or an opponent in the Premier League?
The only incident recent-ish incident that springs to mind is when Alan Smith got sent off for Newcastle in 2008, years before Rooney’s ban. Carlos Tevez scored in injury time to make it 6-0 and Smith, who had clearly had enough, didn’t think the ball had crossed the line. He marched straight over to the referee Rob Styles to say God knows what and was swiftly shown a red card. Out of interest, the ball did cross the line.
There are probably a few other examples over the past decade but when you consider how many times you see players using foul language, either in response to a goal, a referee’s decision or the behaviour of an opponent, and how few times you see them given the red card the football law says they should be given, it’s easy to question why the FA don’t follow through with their own rules.
Obviously, the only reason why I’m digging this up now is because Jose Mourinho has been charged with the same offence following our comeback against Newcastle in our last game before the international break. After going 2-0 down after 10 minutes, we came back to win 3-2 thanks to three goals in the final 20 minutes.
As Mourinho was walking down the touchline to the tunnel, he was filmed muttering something in Portuguese. The accusation is that he said ‘fodas filhos de puta’, which translates as ‘fuck off sons of bitches’.
Like Rooney, he shouldn’t have done it. His emotions got the better of him. He knew as well as most that he would likely be sacked if he lost that game and he had to spend over an hour contemplating his future before the impressive comeback. That doesn’t mean it was OK that he swore but in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing too awful and a fairly understandable reaction.
It is worse than stepping an inch on to the pitch against Southampton in injury time last season, which saw Craig Pawson send him off.
It’s also worse than kicking a water bottle in our win over West Ham, which also saw him sent off and earn a one match touchline ban.
But swearing in Portuguese, saying words we only know the meaning of because they have been translated for us following the FA’s charge, isn’t much to get worked up over.
Yet here we are again, expecting Mourinho to be banned for our visit to Stamford Bridge this weekend, because the FA have decided to enforce their rule that they let players get away with every single week.
In 2013, Referees’ Chief Mike Riley explained why so few players were sent off for breaking the rule of using abusive/offensive/improper language.
“There are very few reds for foul and abusive language because it depends on the way it is said,” he explained. “If a player turns round after a decision saying, “fuck off, ref” then it’s different from someone standing in front of you, staring, saying, “fuck off”. We have to understand the demands of the game at the highest level and the pressure that players are under.”
Apparently the FA aren’t prepared to give any understanding to the demands at the highest level and the pressure that Mourinho is under though, making him the first person to be charged in the Premier League for swearing in a foreign language.
I’m not even really defending Mourinho here. He is in the wrong and by the letter of the football law he should be charged. And if every player and manager who broke the same rule was charged, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. But their rules don’t mention choosing to use improper language when a camera is on them. If United’s game against West Ham in 2011 and our game against Newcastle last weekend weren’t shown live on television, would the charges have been brought?
Last week, Mourinho claimed there was a “manhunt” against him, and he was laughed at. After this latest charge, can anyone really argue he is being treated the same as every other manager would be?