Liverpool: If you don't like referees, do it yourself
It was Bill Shankly who supposedly uttered the famous quotation about football being 'more important than life or death'. Whether he said it or not, it's a fair bet that a man from his hard background in the coalfields didn't mean it to be taken literally. Unfortunately, in modern football, some so-called supporters don't understand this.
The news that some Liverpool 'fans' have launched abusive tweets to Mark Halsey after his decisions in the match with Manchester United making reference to his brush with cancer is just sickening, but sadly not surprising. The morons who would do this are the extreme end of a spectrum of disdain for officials.
The 'men in black' have never won any popularity contests, but the past 10 years has seen a ratcheting up of the level of venom sent their way. Why?
Well there's the level of scrutiny they are under with cameras at every possible angle, combined with a faster game which means the old idea of one person controlling the match is now obsolete. Add to that they have any number of players trying to con them in sophisticated ways.
Then there are the stakes. It's all too important. With millions of pounds resting on key decisions and a whole generation of fans for whom winning is everything, there's no tolerance for error, and there are many managers only too happy to protect their backs by shelving blame on to referees.
Then there's professionalism. The moment we started paying refs to control matches the gloves were off in terms of scrutiny. You might have sympathy with a guy whose day job is a fireman or teacher, but once we got the 'super-refs' jetting round the planet to take matches a whole new level of contempt kicked in.
And finally- worst of all - we've got a bunch of infantile individuals who seem to think that a game of football is the most important event in life and winning those contests is more crucial than any values of human decency.
I've been to many football matches where I've had to sit or stand next to supporters whose commitment to their team means that barely a tackle goes by without them baying for a foul against the opposition. That's normal currency at a football match and mildly amusing.
At the next level up are those who have to throw in a bit of abuse for good measure. In their view the ref is not only incompetent but they can see a cause for it. He's too fat, too slow etc or just a .......... Not pleasant but most refs can cope with it and it can just about come under that much misused word 'banter'. These fans might shout a lot but wouldn't dream of intimidating a ref on Twitter or in his own home.
Then there's the next level of fan who laces their comments with a definite sense of paranoia and conspiracy. Officials have to be biased - they favour the opposition, they're deliberately cheating us etc etc - this dreary bunch clog up the message boards and phone-ins with their whining.
And finally we get the ones who make it personal. Those for whom a game of football long since slipped beyond the bounds of rational thought. These people can hate so intensely that given the chance they would harass, intimidate and physically assault an official and they have absolutely no sense of decency.
Football can obviously do without this last group and most fans would condemn them, but everybody needs to get a grip and understand without officials we have no game. Managers and players need to stop grandstanding to fans and support them and most of all - if you think referees are so bad and the game is so easy - get out there and do it yourself.
The one thing that unites the nearly all the fans who I have ever met complaining bitterly about referees, is that none of them have ever tried it- at any level. I'd love to see a few of the Twitter trolls out in front of just a few hundred passionate fans with only a whistle and their judgement to work with
Calling all fans: Do you agree with Hugh? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.