“Love and respect do not automatically accompany a position of leadership. They must be earned.”

Roy Keane was the worst of the lot, wearing the captains arm band, chasing Andy D’Urso around the pitch. Jaap Stam, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham all followed.

So what was the big deal? Why did one man warrant the abuse the United players were shouting at him?

He’d awarded a penalty against United with less than 20 minutes to play, for a challenge from Stam on Juhinho adjudged to be worthy of a spot kick. Stam got his foot on the ball, but D’urso believed he took the players legs as well, so blew for a penalty.

United were battling it out with Leeds (can you imagine?) at the top of the table, and with four months left to go, already behind the scum, dropping points at home to Boro was not part of the plan.

So wrongly, our players reacted. However much you love our club, to see our players behave like that was embarrassing. I am certainly not trying to defend or justify our players behaving that way and I want to make that explicitly clear.

If I had Roy Keane screaming in my face, maybe I’d run away like a little girl too, as D’Urso did. However, as a referee, it was his job and his responsibility to plant his feet in the ground and tell them where to go. What on earth is he doing, with the power to send every single one of them off, running backwards like that? What our players did was embarrassing, but the referee made a proper show of himself too.

These events have become more and more frequent in the years since this (United won 1-0, with Beckham scoring 3 minutes from time after Juhinho missed the penalty, and we went top of the league on goal difference) and the FA are determined to do something about it.

Yesterday a ‘Respect’ campaign was launched and it got me thinking that whilst we should demand better behaviour from our players, shouldn’t referees earn their respect?

Last season, Ashley Cole was involved in a ruck with the referee, following a horror tackle on Spurs full back, Alan Hutton. Referee Mike Riley booked Cole after his tirade of abuse towards the official. Just think, most players would feel lucky to get away with just a booking following a challenge which most referees would have deemed a straight red. Not Ashley Cole though, who went off on one at Riley, furious at the referees decision.

Of course, Cole was full of apologies after the incident, when talks of a ban were circulating. Chelsea had been fined twice already that season for failing to control their players, and here was yet another occasion.

“Ashley, you’re going to get sent off in a minute,” said Riley as Cole refused to turn to face the official. “Show me some respect,” continued Riley, before Cole turned to face him for a split second as the yellow card was raised.

Fans were horrified to see the Chelsea reaction to Riley’s decision to book him, but were probably more horrified that Riley didn’t send him off. Even referee boss, Keith Hackett, claimed Cole should have been sent off. However, Riley didn’t even include the Chelsea reaction in his report. Cole verbally abused Riley following his (lenient) decision, yet the referee didn’t even report it to the FA!

The FA call for players to respect the ref, but why on earth should they if the referees themselves don’t command that respect. That is not to say I condone the behaviour of players like Ashley Cole, of course not, but then I’m not going to feel pity for referees who allow players to walk all over them.

The following weekend, most managers had reminded their players that following the media furore concerning Ashley Cole, that today was a day to behave. Clearly, Liverpool FC missed that memo.

Despite Rafael Benitez’s embarrassing complaints, the press were on side when Javier Mascherano was shown the red card against Manchester United. On a day when even Wayne Rooney, one of the usual suspects when it comes to disrespecting the referee is concerned, was quiet as a mouse, Mascherano lost the plot and was sent off by Steve Bennet. Here’s how the situation unravelled:

10 MINS: Despite a blatant late tackle on Paul Scholes, Mascherano can clearly be seen screaming “Fuck off, fuck off”. Bennett issues him with a yellow card. The correct decision.

11 MINS: Smarting over the booking, the Argie can again be seen saying “Fuck off, fuck off” prompting Bennett to respond by putting his finger to his lips and telling Mascherano to be quiet.

15 MINS: Mascherano then calls for Bennett to book Anderson for an innocuous trip on Steven Gerrard by pulling an imaginary card from his pocket. He is beginning to tread very thin ice and pushing his luck.

23 MINS: Now the Argie gives away a free-kick for taking out Ryan Giggs by the touchline. But then he looks towards the linesman and points to his eyes — as if to suggest: You need glasses.

36 MINS: In Bennett’s face again, whingeing and complaining even though Liverpool are given a free-kick.

38 MINS: Complains despite his foul on Ronaldo.

44 MINS: Torres is booked for dissent, after reacting badly to a foul. Mascherano runs 15-20 yards to question the referee on the decision. Bennet warns him that if he continues to protest he will be sent off, by pointing towards the tunnel. Mascherano doesn’t get the hint, continues his ranting, and is sent off.

In my write up at the time, I covered this topic in more detail.

So Bennet did what all referees should do, even if it took him longer than it should have done, but was enabled to because he was empowered by the events of the Chelsea vs Spurs game. Mascherano’s sending off should have given other referees the balls to do the same, but as the weeks went on, the ‘Respect Campaign’ dropped out of the papers and things reverted to how they always were.

Ahead of the new season, which will kick off in just two weeks, the FA have attempted to implement a new initiative aimed at improving the players of our league.

One of their ideas focusses on captains being given a greater responsibility in controlling their players. However, if we look at the above example of Roy Keane and, more recently, the behaviour of John Terry, you have to question whether any player, particularly the one likely to be the most passionate about the team, can speak on behalf of the other players.

However, I do agree that it is about time that something was done about this problem. Players are getting far too big for their boots and they should be brought them back down to earth.

I just wonder why referees couldn’t have implemented this themselves. They are clearly aware of the rules, so they therefore must be aware that they can punish players who show them a lack of respect. If four players crowded the ref, swearing and shouting at him, and were all shown red cards, then players would quickly learn. It all seems rather spineless that the FA have to get involved on their behalf because they don’t have the balls to put the rules in to place themselves.

The FA have shown us a vision of what football is like without the help of referees, displayed in this rather cringeworthy video.

So yes, definitely, players need to respect the referees. But equally, referees need to grow a pair and show the players who’s boss!