Chris Waters: Rooney underscores dire slip in standards since Lofthouse's day

I am too young to have seen Nat Lofthouse play.

But I have read all about the 'Lion of Vienna', who died last week at the age of 85.

Lofthouse, the former Bolton Wanderers and England centre-forward, was one of the finest footballers this country has produced.

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A reluctant hero, he was as self-effacing off the pitch as he was sporting on it.

Just before the BBC screened tributes to Lofthouse on Match of the Day 2 last week, they showed highlights of Manchester United's Premier League game at Tottenham Hotspur.

The match itself was unremarkable, finishing 0-0 after a full-blooded battle.

But what stuck in the mind were the shameful antics of United's Wayne Rooney.

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After referee Mike Dean showed United full-back Rafael da Silva a second yellow card, Rooney launched a foul-mouthed tirade at the official that would have turned Bernard Manning red with embarrassment.

The juxtaposition of Lofthouse and Rooney on the same television programme highlighted two things.

First, that Lofthouse was a gentlemen.

Second, that the modern game is marooned in the gutter.

Whereas Lofthouse played hard but fair and respected referees, Rooney is nothing but a mollycoddled embarrassment.

Indeed, rarely has the contrast between two footballers – or two eras – been more graphically illustrated.

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Regardless of whether Dean was right or wrong to send off Rafael, Rooney's reaction was completely unacceptable, the striker running up to Dean and shouting in his face.

One did not require a degree in lip-reading to deduce that most of the words rhymed with "clucking", for which Rooney was given the wholly inadequate punishment of a yellow card.

At one point, Dean put his hand to his mouth to indicate Rooney should button it.

"Cluck off," came the reply, or words to that effect.

But even this outburst was tame by Rooney's standards.

In 2005, he allegedly told referee Graham Poll to 'cluck off' 27 times during the first half of a match between United and Arsenal.

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Incredibly, Rooney, seen right yelling in happier mood after scoring, was not sent off and was allowed to continue his antics after half-time.

Writing in a national newspaper last week, Poll admitted he set a bad example by not dismissing the player.

"I considered my performance in that match to be the finest in all of my 329 Premier League games," he declared.

"Only now, having stepped away from refereeing, do I realise the damage I may have caused to the game in not sending Rooney off."

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All of which begs the question: just what do you have to do to get sent off for swearing on a football field these days?

If telling the referee to 'eff off' 27 times in 45 minutes does not constitute "foul and abusive language", what on earth does?

According to the Laws, the guidelines are clear.

One of the seven offences punishable by caution is "dissent by word or action", while another is "persistent infringement of the laws of the game."

In addition, one of the seven offences punishable by direct sending-off is "using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures".

In all cases, Rooney was as guilty last week as in 2005.

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What Rooney's latest outburst shows is that the Football Association's much-vaunted Respect campaign has had little effect.

Launched in 2008, it was designed to cut out precisely the sort of tirade to which Dean was subjected.

According to the latest figures, the campaign has been a resounding success.

Last season, there was a 23 per cent reduction in yellow cards issued for dissent in the Premier League, a 31 per cent decline in the Championship and a 12 per cent reduction in the Football League.

Such figures, however, are utterly meaningless.

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For if the likes of Dean are allowing Rooney to eff and blind to their heart's content, it is small wonder the number of cautions is plummeting.

The only way such statistics would be meaningful is if there was a zero tolerance policy to abusing referees.

As long as officials adopt a slap-dash approach, however, the figures are as worthless as the campaign itself.

Of course, one sympathises hugely with the referees.

They have an odious task and are lambasted from all sides – players/managers/supporters/press.

But there are also times when they do not help themselves.

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If a referee allows a player to swear 27 times at him and does nothing about it, he is doing the game a great disservice.

Of course, there will always be swearing on the football field.

It is a man's game, an emotional game, and there are bound to be times when expletives fly.

But as soon as swearing is directed specifically at officials, it is time to get the cards out.

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Otherwise, the likes of Rooney will be allowed to continue on their foul-mouthed way.

Players must realise they have a wider responsibility.

They are role models for children and obscenely well-paid.

When children see the likes of Rooney mouthing off and managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson doing nothing to curtail it, should anyone be surprised if kids follow suit?

How one longs for the days of Nat Lofthouse.

Leading the tributes last week, Sir Bobby Charlton – another wonderful sportsman – said: "It was a hard game then. It wasn't like today. It was so tough.

"The pitches were bad, the ball was heavy, the equipment was awful. but Nat Lofthouse loved the game of football and was proud to be a part of it."

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Somehow, one doubts Rooney's epitaph will be quite so glowing.

The boy Bates 'done good'

WHILE Wayne Rooney highlights everything that is wrong with modern football, Ken Bates continues to illustrate its eccentricities.

The Leeds United chairman never misses a chance to entertain in his programme notes, which are rapidly assuming legendary status.

Glancing through a copy of last Saturday's programme against Scunthorpe, I notice Bates was in typical form.

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In a wide-ranging offering, he described Labour leader Ed Milliband as "strange", treated readers to a joke about a hooker, a brothel and a drug dealer, and had a pop at Archbishop Tutu of South Africa.

"Archbishop Tutu of South Africa gets the Presidential Award. What for?" raged Bates.

"He has been prominent in the fight against apartheid but has little involvement in football and is currently part of a serious controversy in South Africa regarding alleged Anti-Zionist (anti-Jewish) attitudes in his own country."

Bates also hit out at FIFA president Sepp Blatter, saying his actions "get more stupid by the day".

It sure beats platitudes along the lines of "the boys done good" and "the manager has mine and the board's 100 per cent support."