Football: Top players must lead way on ref respect, says Vale hero Bright
T ELEVISION pundit and former Port Vale star Mark Bright says top-flight players should show referees more respect.
The Potteries born-player, who is now a television presenter and summariser, says the men in black often face an impossible job and believes they are too harshly criticised by the media.
Bright had a sympathetic audience at the North Staffs Referees' Association on Thursday evening.
He also sits on the Football Regulatory Authority Board which monitors issues such as player discipline.
Bright says the job of officials in grassroots football is made much tougher when Premier League players give referees a hard time.
He explained: "Football clubs put the referees under pressure. It's a case of 'you can't keep sending players off' and 'who has come to watch you?'
"But I would say top players don't show enough respect to officials.
"A respect campaign should start at the top, not the grassroots."
BBC pundit Bright claimed replays of decisions on television make a referee's job seem much easier than it actually is.
He added: "People say referees bottle decisions, but I think, in general, they just give what they see.
"There was an example the other day where the referee was stooping to see if there was any contact with feet, but at the same time there was a shirt pull that he couldn't see.
"We analyse it on the television and say how did the referee miss that? But that is unfair.
"Also, players are trying to take advantage all the time to get an edge."
The former Port Vale, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton striker says diving and shirt pulling became more prevalent in the game when there was an influx of foreign players in the 1990s.
However, he says English players are now just as guilty.
He said: "The foreign players introduced diving, but the English players have mastered it as well.
"When I was at Sheffield Wednesday, my team-mate Dan Petrescu told me we didn't get enough penalties and, as a striker, I should go down.
"If someone clattered me I would go down, but I wasn't going to throw myself down.
"As for shirt pulling, that came in around 1993 or 1994.
"I remember Slaven Bilic was the first player to do it to me. He just grabbed hold of my shirt and stopped me running from a corner.
"Then he would link my arm to stop me moving. It was all new. Now the English players are just as cunning."
Bright was following in the footsteps of Stoke manager Tony Pulis and FA director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking by addressing the referees' club.
Although he now lives in London, he still regards himself as a proud Potteries man, and was happy to make the 400-mile round trip to Burslem Cricket Club to be guest speaker.
And although he likes to see Stoke City do well, Bright admitted his heart is still with Port Vale.
He said: "I'm a Vale man. I lived in Norris Road, Stanfields, and from the back of my house you could see the old 'V'-shaped floodlights at Vale Park.
"My dream was to play for Port Vale one day."
Bright was in Vale's youth side, but was released at 16 and went to play for Leek Town instead.
However, he returned when scout Ray Williams persuaded manager John McGrath and assistant boss John Rudge to take another chance on him.
Bright explained: "Ray really banged the drum for me. Then, when I went back to Vale Park, John Rudge was a massive influence.
"I was still working in the Staffordshire Hydraulics factory in Kidsgrove from 6am to 3pm and then getting the bus up to Burslem where John would work with me, Robbie Earle and Andy Shankland.
"Without John, I wouldn't have had the career I did. He put so much time in with me to help me improve."
However, Bright also only made it in the game because of his own hard work and a willingness to make sacrifices early on.
He said: "When Vale offered me a contract, John McGrath sat me in his office and said, 'Son, I never sign a bad player. I expect you to be in the First Division in three years'.
"I looked at the contract and said, 'I'm earning more than that at the engineering factory'.
"He told me, 'It's not about the money'!"
Bright still follows Vale's fortunes and says he's impressed that Micky Adams is just about keeping the club in the League Two promotion race, despite the club's financial problems.
He said: "Micky seems to be working with one hand tied behind his back, but is keeping them in touch.
"I went to see Vale at Dagenham and Redbridge, but I was a guest of Dagenham manager John Still so was with the home fans.
"When Vale scored I instinctively jumped up, then had to cover myself by saying 'Oh, terrible defending there'."