Claire Williams muses on what 'RESPECT' means in football, for others and for yourself. It means more than being polite to a referee...
RESPECT. What is it good for? Absolutely EVERYTHING. Say it again.
The FA (and UEFA and FIFA) like to make a big thing of the respect philosophy and it got me thinking about how this manifests itself in our own game and what it really means when you are on the pitch writes CLAIRE WILLIAMS.
The idea of respecting your opponent despite your differences must be one that is applauded, as our game suffers enough prejudice and it has taken a lot of people and a lot of fighting to win us the position we are now in (although there is still a long way to go). There you have the first dilemma… Does respect mean allowing the status quo to prevail and being grateful for what you/we have has or is better to respect your group by winning the rights you think you deserve in the face of oppression? Be thankful and grateful or continue to ask for more and more? An interesting juxtaposition.
In my many years at the different levels of the game I have witnessed some interesting attitudes towards the concept of ‘respect’ and what it really means when you are playing each other in the heat of battle. I always tried to respect the rules and the opponents. Sometimes that resolve can be tested and I must confess I have reacted quite shamefully on occasion, when there have been blatant displays of a lack of decency, let alone respect. That is something I work on, as I react to situations and attitudes, I do not not provoke.
So often I have been at clubs where the young players look at their shirts and think that when they are playing lesser teams they can ‘big time’ it over them with verbals and attitude. Funny though, every time I played against Arsenal – every single player was respectful and quiet. Maybe they were fully concentrating on their own performance. They played hard but with respect in its truest sense. No showing off or showboating, with skilful, quality football and with the emphasis on simplicity and purposefulness. That is one of the reasons they have long been held as fine role models in the English women’s game.
When I was at Fulham we played Everton and lost heavily. We were played off the park and Everton were top drawer. My teammates were sat in the changing room afterwards and without any sense of irony a few said that Everton were not as good as they thought. They went through all the England players at Everton, pointing out this weakness and that. How they knew after chasing shadows for 90 minutes is beyond me! They didn’t want to put that spotlight on themselves though.
We make many assumptions in football and should always respect our opponent however far below in the pyramid they sit. Although I am getting on a bit now, I have played at the top level and received lots of plaudits over my career. As I enter the autumn of my playing days I have stepped down the league ladder and now find myself seeing the big name clubs coming down to play us, with the type of attitude that I hated when I was there. When you are on the receiving end it is much worse as it is probably the biggest game of your season and you want to play your best and measure your abilities against a team two or three divisions above. Physically you know it will be tough and you may well have your fitness is found out but what really irks me is the teams that come down and try to demean those that are playing at that level week in, week out.
I played against a team this year and they were so disrespectful that it was shocking. The thing is, they are a cracking football team but you wonder if they have not got the warranted promotions because they are too busy showing off and belittling opponents. It smacked of flat track bullying syndrome. When they get matched they seem to disappear…along with the arrogance.
As I mentioned, I’m in the latter days of my playing career and recently played against an Academy team where one of their players kept going on about me being old. At the end of the match she told me I had no right to be there. A match that my team won. I was more than a little exasperated because she felt I should give up, when we were the side that had actually won? Should she give up before she starts on her career because her side lost? Of course not!!
The many social media channels now add to the concoction and can often be a medium for disrespect in the form of disparaging comments or unnecessary boasting. Sometimes someone from the other team will see that [before a game] and that’s the job done for the coach. No team talk needed. It is also massively detrimental to yourself if you think that you are at a level where you can big time it over other players. The best cannot exist alone and you can’t measure yourself or any of your progress, unless better and worse players take part in the game. You must be open and accepting and encouraging of others. You will end up curtailing your own improvement if not. The best players that I have met have always been humble and still trying to get more out of themselves and those around them.
My mum always used to say that ‘empty vessels make the most noise’. Another favourite of hers was ‘it is better to be talked about than to talk about yourself’. It has served me well, because even when I had a seemingly perfect game I knew there was no such thing and I could always have done a few things better. I always used to say ‘if you have played the perfect game - you better quit, as that’s it!’
So, I would say it is important to enjoy your football and continue to improve. If you can take six players on every time you get the ball and do a couple of pirouettes then you are lacking respect for yourself - because unless it is the World Cup Final you should be pushing onto a level where you are stretched and every bit of skill feels earned. That’s how you become a top player.
The RESPECT campaign is largely used to promote better acceptance and relations with officials. I think the way that we treat referees is good compared to in the men’s game but I have still witnessed (and even got involved myself) shouting at referees and remonstrating. Do you know what though? Not once have they ever changed their mind. They make mistakes. It’s human nature – us players make several mistakes in a game - let’s ask them the question, accept what they saw and move on. There can be no game of football without them.
Let’s try to make the word RESPECT a behaviour rather than an edict that we don’t pay heed to, in the heat of battle. Respect yourself, respect your opponents, respect your coach and the officials and most of all respect the game itself, for all its beauty, inconsistencies, disappointments and hard-earned joy.
Neither are workable or likely at present but hypothetically, would you prefer a more strict salary cap in the FA WSL OR should centrally contracted England players (that receive salaries from The FA) be allocated more evenly around WSL1 clubs?