Southampton striker Charlie Austin has escaped punishment from the FA for his post-match rant about referee Simon Hooper’s decision to disallow his goal in the 1-1 draw with Watford last weekend, but the powers that be have made a big mistake in not throwing the book at him.
Yes, it’s good to see players open up and express themselves, and yes, the Parklife video was potentially the funniest thing on the internet on the weekend, but Austin’s musings only serve to legitimise the abuse that referees at grassroots level are receiving.
Hooper and his team did make two mistakes in the game at St Mary’s, as players often do, but if he had called both decisions correctly then the visitors would have had a potentially game-changing penalty for Ryan Bertrand’s tackle on Nathaniel Chalobah with the score still at 1-0 to Southampton. This might have meant that Austin’s strike, which was ruled out as the officials thought it had deflected off the offside defender Maya Yoshida, may never have even happened.
Despite the mistakes though, Austin should not have come out so strongly against Hooper and his assistants, as there is already a problem within the game relating to a lack of respect for match officials.
When footballers at a lower level see a professional come out so strongly against his referee after a game it only adds to the feeling that it is okay to hurl abuse at those taking charge of games at a local level.
This isn’t just an English problem either, and with the Premier League being broadcast across the world, more must be done to educate players on the repercussions that their comments can have.
For example, just last weekend in the Republic of Ireland, Combined Counties League ref Daniel Sweeney was assaulted and had his jaw broken in a post-game incident that allegedly involved three Mullingar Town players and a fan.
These kind of stories are becoming all too common and would certainly be enough to put off any young person thinking of taking up refereeing, and this all feeds in to the lack of registered refs in the UK right now.
In his rant, Austin called for the Video Assistant Referee system to be introduced, and it was confirmed just a few days later that it will be brought in for the Premier League next year. This obviously won’t help things at a grassroots level though, and players like Austin must realise that these outbursts all contribute to an aggressive attitude towards referees.
The FA were wrong to give the 29-year-old Southampton man the benefit of the doubt on this occasion and they should have punished him. Things could improve quickly at a professional level, but at a grassroots level things take a lot longer to change, and something must be done.