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Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 14:16 UK

Time to rebuild respect, says Wilkie

by BBC Blast reporter Paul Maughan

Alan Wilkie with Paul Merson
Wilkie (right) wants all footballers to enjoy a good relationship with officials

The 2008-09 Premier League season is underway and already one of the major talking points has been the introduction of the Football Association's Respect campaign.

One major aspect of the project has been to ensure that top-flight footballers improve their relationship with officials.

The plan to restrict only the captain to speak to the referee is to prevent teams surrounding and harassing an official.

The FA have turned to experienced officials to help implement the campaign, people who have experienced the pressure, stress and tension of top flight football.

Alan Wilkie, from Chester-le-Street in County Durham, was a Premier League referee for eight years before reaching the compulsory retirement age of 48 in 2000.

He is now the FA's regional manager for referees in the North East and Yorkshire, and is playing an active role in helping raise the profile of the Respect scheme.

Wilkie says the scheme is about making sure that people get back to enjoying football, and he believes it will be a success.

"The campaign is important because the image of the game has been damaged so much recently," he told BBC Sport.

"We want to get back to the correct and appropriate image where everybody is free to play without fear of abuse from the touchline.

"Every league in the country, all 5,000 of them, will be invited to sign-up to the campaign and it is up to them if they want to sign-up.

It is time we all took a look at ourselves and just said 'right, lets get back to being decent and watching the game of football as it should be played.'

Alan Wilkie

"If we went in and forced people to take part the first thing they would say is 'No - we're not'.

"We are trying to change attitudes with this, and the best way to do this is by getting them to say they want to take part.

"So far there have been no negative responses. In fact, the funny thing is that the only thing which frustrates most clubs and referees is that they cannot get started on it straight away, purely because we have to roll out training regimes."

One criticism of referees is that they often turn a 'deaf-ear' to dissent and do not deal with it immediately, preferring to ignore it for an easy life.

Wilkie feels it is vital referees remain strong and enforce the rules, and to avoid inconsistency.

He said: "The situation that we are rolling out to referees is don't ignore anything. Don't go looking for trouble, but if something challenges the referee don't let it go on.

"If it is dissent deal with it immediately. If it is ignored it will just get louder and longer and more difficult to handle. We are asking referees to stand up and be counted."

Wilkie was the first official to take charge of 100 Premier League games.
Wilkie officiated the 2000 League Cup final at Wembley between Leicester City and Tranmere Rovers.
Wilkie was the referee who dismissed Eric Cantona prior to his infamous 'kung-fu' kick incident in a game between Crystal Palace and Manchester United in 1995.

The scheme will last four years, although Wilkie has stressed the FA sees the overall culture change as a long-term goal.

He also believes the success of the scheme lies with more than just officials, and has called on club managers and the media to play their part.

He said: "This is no a quick fix - we have previously had situations where referees are going to clamp down on this and that and in the first month there's a caution for everything that moves and then everyone forgets about it.

"But this is the long term, and there is a massive investment being put into this. We want to get back to the days when it was still competitive but played in a fair spirit.

"The media has a massive role to play, monitoring the behaviour of players and clubs and reporting when they don't display respect.

"It is also very important that high-profile managers remain calm and objective. They have signed up to the Respect campaign and I am expecting them all to display restraint, at least in public.

"It is time we all took a look at ourselves and just said 'right, lets get back to being decent and watching the game of football as it should be played.'"

see also
Referees ready for renewed respect
29 Jul 08 |  Football

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