Richard Hercock: Time to clamp down on mob mentality and protect referees

Manchester United's Angel Di Maria (left) is held by teammate Wayne Rooney as he protests to referee Michael Oliver before being sent off during the FA Cup, Sixth Round match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Manchester United's Angel Di Maria (left) is held by teammate Wayne Rooney as he protests to referee Michael Oliver before being sent off during the FA Cup, Sixth Round match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

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I was at Hillsborough on September 26, 1998, when a certain Paolo Di Canio pushed over referee Paul Alcock.

Wednesday were playing Arsenal and the hot-headed Italian lost his cool. It was hardly violent conduct, but with a flick of the arms the official had staggered backwards to the floor.

Di Canio’s red card turned into an 11-game ban, he sulked back to Italy and his Wednesday career was effectively at an end.

I recall this because this week referees have once again been central to several key games.

Firstly, on Monday night, Angel di Maria – the Manchester United winger who cost a whopping £59.7m – grabbed the back of referee Michael Oliver’s shirt during their 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal.

After initially being booked for simulation – or cheating in simple terms – Di Maria remonstrated with the official, before grabbing Oliver’s shirt when his back was turned.

While it was not in Di Canio’s class, I do believe we have to stamp down on any player who manhandles a referee.

The footballing authorities should automatically hand out a 10-match ban for any player who raises his hands to an offical. Whether that is a push or grabbing hold of the shirt.

The poor discipline shown by players cannot be tolerated.

We already see most weeks, players trying to intimidate officials, not to mention the “mind games” employed by coaches and managers pre-match.

Chelsea’s Champions League exit on Wednesday night to PSG was another example of teams trying to sway the referee.

Both sides were guilty of crowding out Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers during the bad-tempered game.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was harshly sent off by Kuipers, but not before nine Chelsea players surrounded the referee to vent their anger. Blues captain John Terry was quick to jump to his side’s defence.

“Once they’re charging the ref, the only thing we can do is respond,” said Terry.

“You can’t as a group of players let them surround the ref, trying to get our players booked.

“For me, if I have to run 20, 30 yards, it doesn’t look great but when you’re standing back and seeing five or six of their players surrounding the ref, for me, I think I support my team-mates.

“And once I go, four or five go with me, it doesn’t look good at all but that’s part of the game. We’ll match it if people want to mix it, that’s part of our game as well. You have to stick up for your team-mates. Every other side is as bad as each other. It’s part of the game.”

Well it is part of the game I do not want to watch. There is a difference between sticking up for your mates, and trying to intimidate officials and I believe a line has been crossed.

So. just like Di Canio was made an example of 17 years ago, maybe meting out harsh penalties to discourage this mob mentality is the way forward.

Chelsea head to Southampton tomorrow, and the Premier League is theirs to lose.

Jose Mourinho will not accept a repeat of Wednesday’s lacklustre performance, and this defeat should serve as a catalyst for their title charge between now and the end of the season.

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