17/07/2012 13:45 | By Dermot Gallagher, contributor, MSN Sport

Swearing in football: it's time to communicate, lay down ground rules and set boundaries

Dermot Gallagher feels players and officials must accept collective responsibility to address the issue of foul language in football (© Phil Noble-PA Archive)

Former referee Dermot Gallagher feels players and officials must accept collective responsibility for addressing the issue of foul language in football.

When Clarke Carlisle, one of the most respected and well-spoken footballers within the PFA, comes out publicly and says swearing on the field has to be addressed it is time to sit up and take notice.

Clark's comments came on the back of last week's well-documented court case involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, which brought the issue into the public domain. Many may have thought about the problem of swearing in the game but few actually realised the extent of it.

Roy Keane and Dermot Gallagher (© Jon Buckle-EMPICS Sport)

For the referee it is a very difficult situation. In the past when a player used foul language, there were only two options: a direct red card in line with the Laws of the Game or to choose not to hear it.

As the use of foul language spread socially, the punishment for swearing on the field became out of sync. The only red cards shown were for foul language directed towards a match official or a player used in spite or with malice.

During my career I only had to issue two red cards for foul language. The first was way back in the early 1990s when one of my linesmen was subjected to verbal abuse from a player.

The second was on Boxing Day 2002 when Tomas Repka, then of West Ham, read me my fortune in no uncertain terms. He left me with no option.

It's a bit like painting your door and looking at it every day - no obvious change; but take a picture and look at it two years later and the change is dramatic. That's how I think this situation has slowly evolved over the years. But now it's reached a point where something must be repaired.

Fifa, to a certain extent, aided the referees within the last few years. The term 'foul language' was removed from the Laws of the Game and replaced by "offensive, insulting or abusive language". Terminology maybe, but the guidelines are easier to adhere to and easier to apply.

I am not, and never was, an advocate for a plethora of red cards hoping that it will send out a message and act as a future deterrent

What it now means is that if a player uses one of, or a combination of the three, towards a colleague, opponent or match official that player can be dismissed immediately.

This may seem a subtle change but it is one that sees the referee happier to apply the law and one that everyone more readily accepts.

The big problem, however, occurs if such language goes unheard by a match official. Then the problem escalates. Referees find themselves trying to manage two separate situations within one, in which one player is obviously hurt and wants some form of punishment meted out and the other player will certainly deny any wrongdoing.

Last week's revelations about what gets said on a football field may well have shocked many. There were no winners. Football is the biggest global marketing vehicle in the world with multimillion-pound sponsorship deals from global brands. It is not an image many of them would want to be involved with. When you see Coca-Cola and McDonald's, whose obvious target market is seven-to-17 year-olds, will they put up with this?

Let's not put it to the test but instead address the situation - and address it quickly. I am not, and never was, an advocate for a plethora of red cards hoping that it will send out a message and act as a future deterrent.

Instead, I am much more of the opinion of sitting down and diffusing the situation rather than letting it arise and then trying to deal with it.

The PFA has already made it clear that it is not happy. It's time for collective responsibility.

Pre-season, when the referees go to the clubs for their annual visits, let's communicate, lay down the ground rules and set boundaries and, when these have been exceeded, act strongly and be backed up.

It's time for everyone to play their part to ensure that the beautiful game continues to flourish for the better and is remembered for the right reasons - like last season's final day when, after 20 years of the Premier League, we probably saw the Premier League's most exciting conclusion in history.

Here's hoping that together we can attempt to make season 21 even better.

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18/07/2012 02:09
By the way, in Rugby, the referee has to be called "Sir". & the complaint has to be explained in a non confrontational way. Fact,  has been for 50 years. No compromise. Wayne's swear words would have meant he would have been sin-binned within the first 10 minutes of most of his matches
At last!  Swearing has unfortunately become the norm in our culture, with very young children using offensive language as soon as they can talk, because this is what they hear at home first and foremost.  But it shouldn't have been allowed to develop.  This is why there is so little respect in all of society - people don't respect themselves, let alone anyone else.  Twitter and facebook users also employ foul language, so it is not only the spoken word in everyday life.  Sin binning for offensive language on the football pitch may be a good deterent.  Maybe a few of the managers would look at their own use of foul language then, too.  The beautiful game?  I think not with the language, the name calling, the spitting, and all the other offensive bodily actions so evident. 
18/07/2012 08:08

When Anton Ferdinand admitted to abusing John Terry by refering to his affair, then he lost all protection, as far as abuse went. Bringing in ones colour is not acceptable, but neither is a lot of other things which Anton Ferdinand was guilty of. Let the players grow up, stop all this swearing and abusing, get on and play football, to entertain the crowd. This is, after all, what  they are paid for. With all the modern technology, anyone observed, checked on film later, using abusive or foul language gets a months ban. What nice, sweet talking, players we would get.

18/07/2012 08:22
It's time soccer followed the example set by Rugby League -  following a referee's decision, any complaint, back chat or adverse comment by players is punished by  10 minutes in the "sin bin" and if a free kick has been awarded that free kick is moved 10 yards nearer to the offending team's goal. Further, technology should become a part of the game. Peter Beverley.
18/07/2012 01:45
While we are there, how about stopping that filthy habit of spitting, as much as I like football it turns my stomach when I see the amount of spitting, it is an offence to spit on the footpath so why not on the football pitch ? .
18/07/2012 03:33
It used to be a good sign of someone being uneducated, now it seems part of everyday language of many, many people. It is unpleasant to say the least but add a colour and it becomes the new phrase racial abuse`` of which there is no such thing as it is nothing but insulting language as is swearing. I think a good way to stop this gradually is to have 15 or 20 minute penalties being sent off the pitch and it should get longer if it persists. The same should be for feigning injury and rolling over and over and pulling fake expressions of extreme pain, when this is done they they should be given half hour off the pitch to recover. I reckon this would stop all unnecessary activities in time.
18/07/2012 00:58
We must remember who we are dealing with here, profanities and foul language are the tools of  people who's vocabulary skills are limited, most professional football players even seem to have great difficulty in pronouncing "th" (sadly this fault isn't only limited to them). It would be wonderful to live in a perfect world, but that isn't going to happen is it? Our standards have eroded to a point where anyone who tries to halt the decline is laughed at and more. So football players and everyone else will continue to say just what they like to one another, unless the word black or any other race or religious adjective is included in the tirade, then there seems to be another set of rules; I'm honestly at a loss regarding this double standard, as it is the expletives themselves which upset me, and should upset anyone who is on the receiving end of such appalling language, it wouldn't be the fact that someone used the word, "white" whilst cursing me that would anger me more, but that's todays double standards as I said earlier.
18/07/2012 08:18

I am a keen advocate of rugby's sin-bin principle transferring to football and like others below, believe this to be a really positive addition to the game, an ideal punishment for disrespect etc.

Is the "Respect" campaign still going by the way? Was it ever going?

A bit difficult in international matches though - how do you know if a barrage of Serbo-Croat is insulting or just a merry comment on the weather?

18/07/2012 07:41
Whilst swearing seems to have replaced normal conversation in several of the lower levels of 'society'; these grossly overpaid prima donnas should be compelled to curb their foul language as it neither smart nor 'street'. Unfortunately, many of the gullible see these morons as 'role models' with behaviour to be copied. Most of us utter some profanities on occasion, but it is a sign of total disregard for others within hearing distance to overplay this. On the football pitch, excessive use of swearing should be penalised.
17/07/2012 14:54

Won't happen. Clubs and the money hold sway. FA etc. lose their bottle and sing a song, but use different words.

 Fines aren't a deterrent. But enforcing and backing Refs decisions for a change would help, and then deducting points would make them all sit up and think and hold truce. Only way forward, but the Clubs, owners and managers won't allow it. Indeed the FA, outside of two faced  appeasing like the diabolical and shameful treatment of Suarez and NOT Evra, means that they have no respect, either given or taken and are just a money making sham. Every seasons the refs are instructed to do such and such. After a few games the FA are put back into their place by club  Owners and Managers.

18/07/2012 11:18
It works in Rugby. Its called "moving the penalty 10 metre on."It works everytime. There is no abuse of refereees in Rugby. Given that in tv rugby matches, there is a mike on the referee, everything can be heard. Any abuse.... the penalty is moved 10 metres on. Its a rule that has been there for 50 years. Perhaps its time to do that in football
18/07/2012 06:22

Neil Davis,-----you are quite right---it does work in rugby.

Sin-binning for 10 mins or so is the appropriate way to go.

I think that 'simulation' should also carry the same penalty.

The other alternative might be to use the '10 yard penalty' at free-kicks if the ref. comes in for a bit of abuse.

18/07/2012 00:41
Its about time this was addressed. In our town centre swearing will get you arrested. Its stupid, immature and shouldn't be accepted as normal.
18/07/2012 07:05

What a great idea, football seems to be going in the right direction, firstly you werent allowed to surround a ref (i think thats happening) goal line tec (gonna happen)  and now they would like to introduce no swearing at ref's.This can only make things a better thing.Why can a man twice the size of a footballer play a much more phyical sport be more respectful to there officals.Footballers act like the sun shines outta of their arses and they think they are above the law because their statue in the game is important, well it's not, your just as equal as the next man its just you get paid a stupid amount of money and you have people wiping your arses and running in circles for you so you dont get fat.The F.A should take a leaf out of the rugy game and nick thier idea's.Pro footballers will then play for the love of the game and not for the money.

I would also intoduce a sponge man who can come on at any time while the game is still being played and hopefuly that would stop alot of play acting.

18/07/2012 00:38
It works in Rugby. Its called "moving the penalty 10 metre on."It works everytime. There is no abuse of refereees in Rugby. Given that in tv rugby matches, there is a mike on the referee, everything can be heard. Any abuse.... the penalty is moved 10 metres on. Its a rule that has been there for 50 years. Perhaps its time to do that in football
18/07/2012 12:41

At Last!  Thank goodness Dermot Gallagher has been brave enough to raise his head above the parapet.  Football may have reasonably been described as 'the beautiful game' at one time - but no longer.


Too many of the players are foul-mouthed, spitting, cheating, overpaid Prima Donnas who’s behaviour on and off the field is nothing short of a disgrace.  Their disgusting and dishonourable behaviour encourages the disgusting behaviour of too many so-called supporters which makes watching matches an unpleasant and depressing experience for decent people.


I’m not a big fan of rugby but for everyone’s sake, it’s time football took another leaf or two out of rugby’s rule book and cleaned up its act.

18/07/2012 10:21

It is endemic throughout society and as with most unsavoury things in our society, the media are at fault. Fouls Language has become everyday "Normal" Language, which will make it all the more difficult to stamp out. And because we hear it all to often in films, TV and now just about every "Song" published today, who is now to say what is bad and what is normal?


America are the root cause. It seems that they have need to invent there own language "English(US)" which we all Hate with a passion on our PC's. English (US) has expanded to use such words as "A**Hole", "MotherF**ker" (which began as a term of endearment?) We then discover that the language is divided into subcultures with words that can be used by some and not by others such a "Ni**er" or the N Word and it has become know. The Black population are insulted (quite rightly) to be called the Negro derivative as it was formulated as an insult from the start. But to then decide that THEY can call each other the same thing and even expand on it by changing the spelling to replace "er" with "a" to make "N**ga" only serves to make the situation worse or at least more confusing, especially when pushed in your face (or ears) in popular rap music enjoyed by all sections of society.


So what then is foul language? What is derogatory or offensive and how are people supposed to distinguish between one or the other? School, TV, Films, Music are the ones who must tackle this and parents can also help, although they too do not escape the blame for the words and expressions used by their children.


It is a difficult issue to quantify and resolve. Apologies to anyone unintentesionly offended by my use of the "N Word" examples

18/07/2012 11:19
By the way, in Rugby, the referee has to be called "Sir". & the complaint has to be explained in a non confrontational way. Fact, has been for 50 years. No compromise. Wayne's swear words would have meant he would have been sin-binned within the first 10 minutes of most of his matches
18/07/2012 06:19

It's no use everyone just sounding off on social network sites. If everyone who is disgusted with the amount of foul language used by players, managers and fans, and the increasing degree of players demonstrating unsporting behaviour, then there are a few things we can do. If everyone took a little time and contacted the FA Chief Executive, the PFA Chief Executive, the Referee Chief Executive and the Minister for Sport, then hopefully the deluge of communication may just start to have some impact on those who make the rules.

I would also be in favour of introducing a 5 or 10 minute sin-bin for cheating or foul language, including the managers, coaches etc on the touchline. i would think if a goal was scored whilst an oponent was in the sin-bin, then these things would very quickly disappear from the game.


18/07/2012 10:11
I agree that there is too much intimidation of football refs and linesmen. Players should not swear at the officials. In some situations there is nothing that will suffice but a good cuss but not directed at the officials. Rugby has the occasional curse word but woe betide any player that swears at the ref and I shudder to think the wrath that would be visited on a player manhandling "Sir" as the footballers seem increasingly inclined to do to their refs.
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