SUPPORTERS of Alnwick Town football club may not have seen their team win too many games this season – but at least they have been spared hearing the air turn blue.
The controversial Ebac Northern League’s “Secret Shopper” initiative, chiefly targeted at offensive language in grassroots football, has gone public for the first time.
Based on around 150 anonymous visits so far this season, the league today published a table of all 46 clubs, detailing those who have performed almost impeccably and others where concerns remain.
Best of all are Alnwick Town – ironically bottom of the second division – while West Auckland and Spennymoor Town, among the top first division clubs, are at the bottom.
League representatives have met officials of the eight worst performing clubs and already believe that the initiative is having a beneficial impact.
“Most clubs really do seem to buying into what we’re trying very hard to achieve,” said League chairman Mike Amos.
“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.”
The Northern League appointed a 17-strong Secret Shopper panel – their identity known only to two league officials – to visit matches and report on the behaviour of both teams. They mark 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.
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. All clubs have been made aware of their position in the table, and of any concerns.