HEBBURN Town have finished mid-table in an offensive language football ‘league’ – despite being highlighted for criticism in a TV report.
The football club’s hierarchy had been angered at a report on BBC’s Look North in October that showed manager Paul Bennett secretly filmed delivering a stream of bleeped-out expletives at pitchside.
There was frustration that the Northern League Division One outfit had been “singled out” – as it was the only team featured.
Now the league’s controversial “Secret Shopper” initiative, chiefly targeted at offensive language in grass-roots football, has gone public for the first time.
The Northern League appointed a 17-strong panel – their identity known only to two league officials – to visit matches and report on the behaviour of both teams.
They marked out of five in each of four categories – players’ language, technical area language, technical area discipline and spectator behaviour, in which category marks are almost always high.
A table of all 46 Northern League clubs has now been published – based on about 150 anonymous visits to clubs so far this season – detailing those who have performed almost impeccably and others where concerns remain.
And Hebburn FC has been placed a respectable 26th in the table, with a 3.91 average score.
Today, a spokesman for the club said he regretted the “spotlight” had been placed on the club in the first place.
He said: “As a club we were always confident, even though we had received no feedback, that we had adhered to the FA’s Respect campaign.
“We are moving forward to improve the supporters’ experience.”
The club, which has also created its own feedback website, is awaiting receipt of unedited footage from the BBC of the game.
The spokesman added: “We have still just received general feedback on only one game out of five. In many ways we are still in the dark.”
League representatives have met officials of the eight worst performing clubs and already believe the initiative is having a beneficial impact. Most clubs really do seem to be buying into what we’re trying very hard to achieve,” said League chairman Mike Amos.
He added: “It’s not naming and shaming, nor an attempt deliberately to embarrass anyone. Rather it’s drawing attention to areas of concern and to the negative effects of gratuitous swearing. There really are people who hardly know they’re doing it and who certainly have no idea of the outrage and embarrassment it causes.”
The initiative also has the strong backing of league sponsors Ebac chairman and leading County Durham industrialist John Elliott – despite the fact that West Auckland, the club of which he is president, are bottom of the table.
“I think it’s a brilliant scheme and I’m sure the situation at West Auckland will be addressed,” he said.
“There’s no upside to offensive language, no positives at all unless your aim is to look like a mindless moron. You never see a boxer win a fight if he loses his cool and gets angry.
“It’s just not acceptable, and it makes for worse football, too.”
Fellow South Tyneside clubs Jarrow Roofing and South Shields also appear in the table in 19th and 29th positions, with respective scores of 4 and 3.88.
West Auckland received the lowest score of 3.25, with reigning champions Spennymoor Town next on 3.32.
The initiative is running in tandem, with the FA’s own Use Your Head scheme and will continue at least until the end of the season.