The Official Line - Time to clamp down on this utter contempt

Last updated at 21:34 20 March 2008

Just 24 hours after the FA launched their campaign for R-E-S-P-E-C-T towards match officials, Ashley Cole gave us his own spelling lesson.

Having committed a horrendous, lunging tackle on Alan Hutton, he showed Mike Riley, who had allowed him to escape with a yellow card, complete C-O-N-T-E-M-P-T.

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Wayne Rooney with Graham Poll

Wayne’s words: Rooney with Poll

Cole displayed petulance beyond belief. He clearly should have been sent off for serious foul play, but even if Riley failed to realise the seriousness of the challenge, the Chelsea defender should have been shown a second yellow for dissent.

But a posse of Chelsea players demanded Cole be left on the field, Riley succumbed and allowed Cole to belittle him. Why? The reason is simple. The reaction from the other Chelsea players to a red card for their team-mate would have been horrendous and made the game more difficult to referee. Who can blame Riley for taking the easy option?

The scenes were reminiscent of November 5, 2006, in the last Premier League encounter between the two sides at White Hart Lane. Like Riley last night,

I was surrounded by Chelsea players during that match after booking Michael Ballack for dissent.

I reported this attempted intimidation to the FA, but they decided not to proceed with the case. Their reasoning?

"You didn't look intimidated."

What was I supposed to do? Cry?

No referee wants to 'look' intimidated — or admit to being intimidated — because it makes them look weak. It will be interesting to see if the FA take up the case this time, as they have done on three previous occasions this season with Chelsea — to little effect, apparently.

When will it dawn on the FA that the punishment is not a deterrent and the time has come to deduct points and prove their behaviour is not acceptable?

To be in the middle of a snarling mob is not a situation I would wish on anybody but referees must remain strong in the face of adversity and also accept that their own tolerance of players' ever-worsening excesses has contributed to what we endure today.

I have to take my share of the blame. Two years ago I took charge of Arsenal v Manchester United, a game labelled 'unrefereeable' because of the bad feeling which had built up between the teams in previous encounters.

After a fracas in the tunnel before the match and an outrageous dive by Ashley Cole in the first couple of minutes, the game settled down.

One of the main talking points after the match was that Wayne Rooney had sworn at me 27 times during the first half. While I was aware that the abuse was not directed only at me, I did not deal with it.

After the game I had the best assessment possible from David Elleray, now vice-chairman of the FA referees committee, a congratulatory call from Brian Barwick thanking me for my sensible handling of a difficult game and a letter of thanks from Gordon Taylor at the PFA.

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Ashley Cole booked v Tottenham March 2008

Yellow peril: Riley books Cole but it should have been red at White Hart Lane

While I was delighted with that reaction and still regard it as my favourite of the 329 Premier League matches I refereed, I now look back with disappointment. By allowing myself to be abused in such a manner, I let my local park colleagues down.

I am now aware that the example set by players at the top level and the referees who try to control them, dictates the agenda for parks football.

I know I was wrong to let Rooney get away with his tirade yet was encouraged and rewarded for refereeing in such a way.

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