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Buffon's abuse chronically damages grassroots game

Friday 13th April 2018

Gianluigi Buffon’s veneer of class was punctured in lamentable fashion when his side were eliminated from the Champions League in admittedly cruel fashion. You don’t need reminding what happened, but Buffon’s reaction at the time, and then post-match should be widely condemned. Michael Oliver was correct in awarding the penalty and correct in sending off the Juve captain.

In the most pressurised of atmospheres, with the world watching, and a tie looming on one decision, Oliver acted with composure and adherence to the rules. Medhi Benatia clearly brought down Lucas Vasquez, seeking to steal the ball away from the Madrid player with all the grace and execution of a cumbersome JCB. Buffon’s protests were expected, but they exceeded tolerable norms. The Italian visibly screamed profanities inches away from Oliver’s face.

Cristiano Ronaldo duly slotted home the penalty, which did little to abate Buffon’s anger.

To award such a doubtful, or super doubtful penalty, just ahead of the final whistle, and destroy the work of a team who gave absolutely everything, you have to have a rubbish bin instead of a heart. 

And especially you need personality to referee a game like this. If you don't have personality, you better watch the game from the stands with your wife and your kids while eating fries.

A human being cannot decide the elimination of a team with such decision. When I don't feel that I'm good enough, I put myself in a corner. He should do the same. It's a matter of sensibility. It means you don't know where you are, which teams are playing, you don't know shit.

If you have the cynicism to award a penalty like that in the 93rd minute, you are not a man, you are an animal.

A day after the mayhem at the Bernabeu, the BBC reported a referee at grassroots level quitting because of two instances of assault. Ross Hawkes claims he was attacked by a player.

I have been assaulted twice and it has got worse. The third assault? I do not like to think what that might be. I do not think I can carry on or want to - the risks are too dangerous. Why should I put up with that on a Sunday morning? No amount of money would make it acceptable.

Are these two instances related? You’d have to be naïve to think otherwise.

Obviously, it's not a case of a player in England seeing Buffon on the telly then having a go at his local ref the next day. A general malaise has manifested in the professional game towards referees. The abuse the men in the middle receive is, unfortunately, a staple of the game. How many times in 90 minutes do you see a player either screaming at a referee or linesman? Rarely does a game go by when you do not, and it feeds into media reports and social media.

Footballers are often hailed as role models for the next generation, for children and teenagers. Yet it is also adults who can be influenced by events broadcasted on television sets. They are not infallible to mimicking some players' egregious behaviour.

Indeed, in some cases, they can take it a step further, going from verbal to physical abuse.

Those labelling the disapproval directed at Buffon as ‘outrage culture’ and ‘PC Police’ are the very same complaining when their Sunday League game is called off because of a chronic shortage of officials. The grassroots game is in worrying decline. Pitches are often irreversibly ruined by the weather, leading to a string of postponements from November to March. There is a lack of funding for clubs and leagues, and there is a dearth of referees available.

Buffon’s actions on the field and comments off it were unacceptable. Not only because they undermine an official and are personal attacks, but because they contribute to a larger miasma. How the game is played out on the elite level has an undeniable impact on how it is played out at the lower levels. 

Buffon’s behaviour validates the actions of players and management across the world, and simply worsens the problem at grassroots level.

The Premier League tried in vain to stamp down on incendiary protests. Only captains were permitted to speak to referees. Any player seen remonstrating with an official would be shown a yellow card. The initiative failed largely because club officials and media lobbied in public that referees needed to show leeway in issuing such cautions. Over time expectations completed eroded the referee's authority to defend himself.

Something must be done to uphold respect for the referee. Only then will gentlemanly conduct trickle down into the grassroots game, encouraging more would-be officials to learn their badges and ensure fixtures go ahead.  

Michael Jones

Football & political writer with a predictable love of everything retro. English Literature undergraduate at the University of Exeter, looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. For a collection of my work, visit. http://mikejonesmedia.wordpress.com

Follow me on twitter: @jonesmichael_97

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