This morning I heard one of the most devastating, sad, completely unfathomable news regarding the beating to death of a linesman in Holland by players of a team he was helping to officiate.
I felt physically sick to hear that this official had offered to run the line for his son's team, which, by logical conclusion, meant that this sickening scene must have been witnessed by at least one member of his family. I am angry, I am gutted and I just cannot stop thinking about all the people involved in something that should have been about fun and entertainment. Something to help young boys aspire, compete and succeed.
Doesn't this put some of the things that pampered footballers have been moaning about into perspective? Not only have the lives of his family been completely shattered by this brutal act but the parents of the 15-16 year olds who must now live with the fact that their sons will probably be going to prison for life, must also be in tatters. Ruined lives over what - a game? A chance of scoring? One decision that saw adrenalin soar to pack level. It's heartbreaking.
This incident was in a European country that I regard as one of the most well balanced, intelligent, charming of all countries. Dutch people are my favourites when it comes to showing calm, articulation and a level head. How could this happen? What does this mean? I hope this is a one off incident and until we know more it's difficult to know what it says about the game of football, a sport that I love with a passion. But what I do know, with my own eyes, is that a lack of respect for the referees and assistants has reached an unacceptable level.
The recent Chelsea incident regarding Mark Clattenburg shows that we are in danger of taking a huge step backwards (as John Barnes also stated) if we don't get back the whole issue of respect for officials as a priority. Clattenburg was an innocent man who, not only was wrongly accused of making a racist comment but was also on the receiving end of some verbal abuse during that same game. I know this because I can lip read, as can many other people and I honestly don't think I've watched one game yet, this season, where I haven't seen the F word or worse being thrown at one of the officials.
This has to stop. A passing curse under the breath through frustration is not the problem. The problem is when some footballers think they can go into the face of the linesmen and the referee, invade their space and aggressively shout abuse. There is no doubt in my mind that this behaviour not only winds up other players in the team but also the fans who are watching. I believe a red card should be shown as an example to everyone playing or watching that this is just not acceptable. The referee needs to set his boundaries at the beginning of the game - his word is final and a grown up needs to accept that.
When footballers are being paid telephone numbers and a referee is being paid a pittance in comparison, we need to all stand up and be counted on this.
And that means the fans too. A little bit of banter is fine but shouting abuse at the referee and linesmen when they are trying their best to do a job is not something I like to hear or see, ever.
And footballers - Just remember that the signs around the stadium and the bands on your arms that spell RESPECT are not just meant for you.
I'm not sure I can bear to read about this tragedy but my thoughts and prayers are with the family and the football club, through this most traumatic time.