“I HOPE YOU CRASH your car on the way home.” Sounds like some sort of veiled threat you would hear someone screech across the market in Albert Square, Walford, doesn’t it?
But this is not a line from an EastEnders script.
This is, in fact, what an amateur player is believed to have told a referee in a recent match after decisions did not go his way.
Welcome to the most extreme kind of abuse that referees in all levels of Rugby League are having to put up with on a regular basis.
And while none of Super League’s stars have uttered anything like that, or at least not been caught doing so, the sight of players unloading towards officials is becoming more and more frequent.
So far this season, we have seen Huddersfield’s Danny Brough ranting and waving his arms around, Leeds’ Danny McGuire venting his spleen and just after a call did not go Hull KR’s way, Ben Cockayne was caught on the big screen at Wigan mouthing, ‘Get f***ed.’
Regardless of whether the intended target was referee Phil Bentham or not, it really was not a good look.
Hull’s Tom Lineham was sin-binned for waving an imaginary flag in the face of touch judge Robert Hicks after scoring a try seconds after having one ruled out for putting a foot in touch — a right call.
Things are little different in the Championship as Leigh’s Jake Emmitt received a two-match ban for abusing a match official, asking a touch judge: “Are you f***ing brain dead or what?”
Also, take the Super League captain who pretty much refused to speak to a referee in his first match back at a club following a controversial decision he made.
Now officials have had enough and a crackdown has been made in recent weeks over dissent, back chat, lip, whatever you want to call it.
“Every week, each referee goes through the game they officiated on an individual basis and if there is one theme that comes through, then it is discussed by us all as a group,” revealed Super League official Rob Hicks.
“In one week at the start of May, dissent was certainly a recurring theme. I gave a penalty for dissent, Richard Silverwood had a couple of incidents and James Child had a couple too.
“So every week we have a group meeting and there could be one issue that runs through every game — it could be patrolling the 10 metres or anything — then we discuss it, try and fix it up and have the right strategies to deal with it.
“But I don’t think there’s as big an issue in the sport as some people think. There’s only maybe three or four players a year sent off or banned for dissent through the year, that’s through all the leagues.
“So say there’s 19 games a weekend, that’s maybe 1,400 or 1,500 a year and if there’s only four or five players being banned for it, it shows that it’s not really that big an issue.”
We are not yet at the stage where Manchester United players surrounded referee Andy D’Urso, who had Roy Keane screaming in his face.
But Hicks does believe players are more prepared than ever to tell officials what they think, and believes there are two main factors to blame.
“We’ve got to remember that we’re in a season where club and players are fighting for their contracts and livelihoods with the threat of relegation from the new structure,” he added.
“There is certainly a little more from players this year because of that, which isn’t to say that it’s acceptable.
“And sometimes you can get a certain impression as, say, there’s only one incident a weekend but it’s at a TV game, that’s what will come across.
“In the last few years under licensing you had teams where if they were knocked out of the Challenge Cup, they didn’t really have much to play for.
“Now if you are, say, fourth or below, you could be fighting for your future and, as a result, games mean a lot more. There’s more pressure on the league position than before.
“Also since Jon Sharp took over as Head of Referees, we’ve been working really hard on building relationships with clubs and players.
“We’d go into training sessions with them and things like that, so we can understand the pressures they are under but also so they can understand the pressure we are under.
“So maybe there’s an element of because we have this improved relationship with clubs and players, some people maybe think things aren’t as black and white anymore.”
TWO WAY STREET
Some players are worse than others, step forward Gareth Hock. The Leigh player definitely falls into the category of serial offender when it comes to match officials.
There’s the seven-match ban for barging into referee Matt Thomason while playing for Salford last season.
Then there’s the five-game suspension in 2008 for man-handling Ian Smith and a four-match ban in 2013 for making deliberate contact with George Stokes.
That came two months after serving one match for abusing an in-goal judge while playing for Widnes against Bradford.
“That’s the worst I’ve ever heard,” said Hicks, who was referee that day.
Respect, of course, is a two way street and, occasionally, there is an admission from a player that the official made the correct decision and they got what they deserved.
“Take the Lineham incident,” added Hicks.
“As soon as he started doing it, Leon Pryce grabbed for his arm so that said to me that Leon knew it was wrong.
“And when I refereed Castleford v Catalans, I penalised Remi Casty who then swore at me. It wasn’t in an aggressive manner but it was industrial language and I marched them 10 metres.
“From that Castleford scored and as we waited for the conversion, Remi came up to me and apologised and said he was in the wrong.
“It’s got to be a double-edged sword. We have to show players as much respect and courtesy as they do to us, it can’t just be a one-way thing.
“Take Tom Lineham as an example, I’d like to think I have a good relationship with him as he’s a good lad.
“I refereed him the week after he was sin-binned for waving the flag at me and we spoke as if nothing had happened.”
The rise of social media leads to a further avenue for officials to become targets and many of them are on sites like Twitter.
Every week, they hold a session where fans can ask them about certain calls and, unlike many sports, they are more than prepared to hold their hands up and say they got it wrong.
And thankfully the line was drawn early on after then Catalans Dragons star Clint Greenshields hit Ben Thaler with some disgusting abuse.
“Holy s***. Thaler is retarded. F*** me,” he wrote. Greenshields was slapped with a £1,000 fine and no player has even come close to that level of vitriol since.
However, there has to be a two-way street and coaches are starting to grow tired of the responses they get when they speak to referees’ boss, former Giants coach, Jon Sharp.
“You ring up and all that happens is you get pacified, every single week,” said St Helens boss Keiron Cunningham, who fumed at James Child’s performance in their defeat at Catalans last month.
“I can picture Jon when I talk to him just nodding and drawing pictures on the board or something. I told him that if one of my players had a bearing on the game like that, they’d be out for four or five weeks as they’d be held responsible. Jon told me, ‘I’ve only got five full-time referees,’ but that’s not my fault.
“I said to him what if one of my players picks an opponent up, smashes them on their head and breaks his neck and is banned for six months. If I’ve only got 10 full-time players, does that mean he can’t be held accountable?
“I’ve never seen a season where the referees are the talking point of the game so often.
“We’ve got to do something about it and invest money into the refereeing.”
That is something perhaps everyone in the game can agree on but if you are getting referees at amateur level being told they hope they crash their car on the way home, can you blame them for not kicking on or dropping out altogether?
Despite that, Super League chief executive Blake Solly is confident Rugby League will not go down the route of football, where haranguing of officials is now part of the game.
He said: “Anything that threatens the fabric of the respect for match officials is a concern.
“One of the unique selling points of our game is the respect our players have for referees, broadcasters and sponsors — and we have to protect that.
“It’s an obligation to everyone involved in the sport to respect that as it’s a huge positive for the sport.
“People love seeing sportsmen have respect for match officials, which is one area that people are often critical of
“But I don’t think we’ll be going down that route.”
This month’s edition Rugby League World is out on Friday. Available in all good stores.