Peter Fraser looks at further evidence that the FA is struggling in its attempt to change mentalities.
By Peter Fraser - Follow me on twitter @SkySportsPeteF
Last Updated: 30/01/12 12:59pm
According to the Football Association, its 'Respect' campaign is "the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football to create a fair, safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take place". This weekend, the crusade took an almighty kicking.
Since its inception, the scheme has received several dents ranging from criticism of referees, improper conduct of fans, and the misbehaviour of players on the field. At the end of last season, however, dissent had still declined by 16 per cent post-2008/09 and the number of misconduct charges had also dropped. Saturday, though, provided a wider picture and turned attention to the overall climate in football. Respect, the noun, which is so often used in football, was found not to exist.
The FA Cup, the flagship competition of English football's governing body, served up Queens Park Rangers against Chelsea, and Liverpool versus Manchester United and, with a saddening inevitability, post-match discussion has been dominated by events away from the games themselves.
At Loftus Road, at the request of both QPR and Chelsea, and ahead of John Terry's impending appearance at West London Magistrates Court for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, traditional pre-match handshakes were suspended by the FA. The decision was influenced by a "malicious communication" sent to QPR and addressed to Ferdinand, while it had become clear several members of the home team were prepared to snub Terry, who was himself mercilessly targeted by fans.
The decision to excuse the handshakes was wise thinking from the FA, which first introduced the pre-match ritual. But the governing body had made a rod for its own back. The compulsory nature of the handshake has itself left the risk of hypocrisy and decreased the nature of a gesture which has lost meaning through its forced nature.
There is no blame for QPR. Ferdinand and his team-mates have every right to ignore Terry if they so wish bearing in mind the allegations against the England and Chelsea captain. The FA realised its 'Respect' campaign would be shielded by acknowledging there was no respect for Terry.
For those who do not want the entire sanitation of the competitive, on-field, sporting nature of football, handshakes before a match are a strange gesture to begin with and it is here that the FA is flawed in its thinking. That it is attempting to address issues deserves credit, but imposing actions upon players leaves them lacking in sincerity.
The pre-match handshake has never been anything other than a token signal from players and now it has become a beacon of completely the opposite meaning to its intention. While the choice to attempt to defuse the Terry-Ferdinand situation should be acknowledged, the FA might as well have instead decided to send the players marching around the pitch with 'Respect doesn't exist' placards.
At Anfield, to compare to Terry, Patrice Evra was also the subject of relentless boos upon his first return since the incident which saw Liverpool's Uruguayan striker, Luis Suarez, suspended for eight matches after being found guilty of using a racial slur against the Manchester United defender when they met in the Premier League on 15th October.
On the field, the match was conducted with the, more often than not, firm but fair fervour of games between Liverpool and United. Handshakes took place and there were no unsavoury player confrontations with Evra. Here, fans were under scrutiny.
Under the FA's code of conduct for supporters, it lists to "never engage in, or tolerate, offensive, insulting or abusive language or behaviour". The issues are, obviously, wider ranging than the simple competitive nature of football or tribalism, but they again provided evidence of a sport bereft of respect.
Evra was not targeted at Anfield solely for his role in initially reporting Suarez. The France international was, and is, also viewed as a symbol of the injustice some Liverpool fans feel from perceived inconsistencies in the FA's 115-page report into the reasons for Suarez's ban.
But the treatment of Evra on Saturday was still nothing short of appalling. One man has been released on bail following his arrest over an alleged racist gesture during the game.
Like Ferdinand, for reporting an incident of racism, the United captain has been belittled to a disgusting extent. It sets an incredibly worrying precedent for any future cases of players who wish to report discrimination.
Many feel Liverpool have not dealt with the issue at all well and it has led some, albeit a minority, to seemingly think it is in some way an issue of team rivalry. Despite appealing for calm in the build-up, Kenny Dalglish, a manager who constantly speaks of his respect for other clubs, should take some responsibility.
Describing the abuse which took place over the course of Saturday's match against United as 'friendly banter' could be seen as unwise. The Liverpool manager's public relations skills have also come under scrutiny in recent weeks after his backing of the now infamous T-shirts in support of Suarez in December's Premier League draw at Wigan.
Again it is that issue of respect. Despite the rapid speed with which the focus and news agenda of football so quickly shifts, this is a subject which is unlikely to ever disappear.
FA statistics of a decrease in dissent or conduct can be used to support any argument, but they cannot be used to measure a non-existent change in football's overall mentalities.