Klopp, Moyes and other touchline bullies must face consequences for imitable actions

John Nicholson
Jurgen Klopp argues with David Moyes

Jurgen Klopp showed little contrition for abusing an official and David Moyes was quick to back him. Their actions set a precedent for abuse at all levels


Having been sent off in the Manchester City game for protesting about a decision not to award a free-kick for a foul on Mo Salah, Jurgen Klopp said his dismissal was “in the end, probably deserved”.

“But you cannot have this situation,” he added. “It is the clearest foul I ever saw in front of the linesman and he is not bothered. It is clear. They just watch the game but we are involved.”

So, sorry not sorry, then.

But the idea that officials drive managers and players to behave like this is a common excuse. David Moyes agrees. “For 90 minutes or so it becomes a really emotional game, sometimes you can change your character from what your true character is.”

But that’s not true. No you can’t. How you behave is how you are. How you behave is always an aspect of your character, maybe one you don’t want to confront, or don’t like, or is shameful, but it’s there all the same. Suggesting otherwise is an excuse Women’s Aid workers often hear to excuse domestic violence: he’s not that sort of lad, except when he is. It’s out of character, except when it’s not.

Moyes went on to say: “I think if we stood there and did nothing I think our supporters, the public, the media would probably be questioning why not? I think if you look at the incident he got angry about, he was correct, wasn’t he?”

It sounds a lot like “If you didn’t annoy me so much, I wouldn’t have to hit you.”

And it’s not just Klopp and Moyes; most managers would speak similarly. Losing your temper and raging at officials because you disagree with their decision is widely assumed to be part of the game. They feel they have been given a licence to behave like this and to a large extent they have – it’s built into the culture of the men’s game.

All of which might be so much soap opera if it was contained within the rarefied air of the Premier League. But it isn’t. The same culture which excuses Klopp leads to referees getting abused and assaulted all the way down the pyramid, even to kids’ games and many are walking away, many more, never even getting involved.

Dr Tom Webb and Martin Cassidy, co-authors of the book ‘Referees, Match Officials & Abuse’, found that 93.7%(!) of football officials had been physically or verbally abused during a match with 59.7% experiencing some form of abuse every two games. These are simply unacceptable figures. It’s wrong and we have to say it’s wrong. Klopp and his ilk also need to say it’s wrong, change their behaviour and stop offering themselves get-out clauses and caveats to justify their terrible conduct. They don’t seem to understand they are feeding the abuse culture and giving licence to it.

This is, of course, like most problems in the world, a male thing. Women are not nutting anyone at football, they’re not threatening anyone with physical violence. Indeed, this abuse of officials is unique to the men’s game. In women’s football, you barely even see anyone protesting a decision, let alone losing their mind over it. I don’t doubt it has happened somewhere, sometime, but it is not embedded in the culture. Ironic then that women were long thought to be the emotional gender, unable to control themselves in moments of stress. Pfft.

Dr Webb also discovered that England is far worse than France or the Netherlands for all forms of referee abuse and intimidation with only less than six per cent in England saying they had not been on the receiving end of abuse, compared to 44% in the Netherlands.

So what is wrong with England? How long have you got?

The police are too soft on abuse perpetrators. Satyam Toki, a 28-year-old referee, sent off a player for foul language during a game in Ealing, West London in August 2020. After the incident, the player wanted to have it out with Toki and he was struck and kicked repeatedly. But the perp just got a police caution and his 10-year ban was halved on appeal.

The charity Ref Support UK wants body cameras on refs as a deterrent, to record evidence and help with referee training. The trouble is, if the culture of abuse in football does not change, such videos of people losing their temper with the ref would be treated like ‘You’ve Been Framed’, leaked onto the internet for amusement and entertainment.

Proper punishment for the club via deduction of points would help, but this sort of behaviour seems too endemic now and worse yet, kids learn it at an early age. Anyone who has ever seen kids playing football knows they copy everything they see footballers do on TV, good or bad. If a player does some sort of dramatic goal celebration on Saturday, kids will be doing it on Monday. The fact that they see players and managers losing their minds at officials every weekend feeds into their psyche and they tend to behave likewise. Even if they don’t, it normalises it for them. It sets this behaviour as a default from an early age and I doubt whether any of the punishments suggested would make any difference to that. Change must come from within ourselves.

Many of us like a bit of conflict between players and officials. When we see two managers going head to head, most of us love it. I certainly do. It all adds to the drama. But I would suggest that the reason I love it is because I’ve had this set in stone as a cultural norm from an early age and am unable or unwilling to see the long-term repercussions. But those repercussions currently threaten the very playing of football. After all, no referees means no games and thousands of referees are quitting every month. So we must change.

This season The FA launched the new Enough is Enough campaign and while they insist action will be taken against anyone whose behaviour is unacceptable, it has made no obvious difference and certainly hasn’t changed the behaviour of high-profile managers and players in any noticeable way.

Equally, so much broadcast content is based around the confected outrage about referee mistakes and now VAR mistakes, even though, ironically, it was this fixation on refereeing decisions that brought about the introduction of VAR in the first place. They’ve now got ex-referees to act as a VAR on the VAR, so obsessed with decisions have they become. It all foments anger and injustice and makes it seem not just normal, but your right as a fan, as a manager and as a player.

If we accept that one of the main drivers for this behaviour comes from the highest profile people doing it on our televisions, then draconian punishment must be a consequence.

If Klopp was banned for 10 games and the club docked 10 points, maybe it would make him pull his horns in. If there is a clear schedule of punishments for specific transgressions, perhaps some would think twice.

However, that alone is still not good enough. We need to consciously change our behaviour. We must change male football culture, whether we’re watching kids play football or whether we’re watching a top-flight club. Fathers need to take responsibility for their behaviour. We need to have some restraint and a lot of perspective. We need to set a good example for children and lay out what is right and what is wrong for them, regardless of what they might see on their television. There is little more sickening than seeing a young boy copying his father in calling the referee a wanker.

We owe a duty of care towards match officials. They are not there to be pinatas upon which we can beat out our own boiling rage or self-loathing. It is obviously morally wrong to do so, and it is also absolutely stupid because without referees there is no football to enjoy.  Just because it has always happened is no reason to believe it always will. My granddad Fred once gave me a piece of advice for a happy life: “Don’t be a c***, our John.” Is it really so hard?