Scunthorpe United - Saturday 26th January 2013

Last updated : 27 January 2013 By Tim Graham

There has been plenty of talk over the last few years about playacting, diving, respect, fair play, sportsmanship, whatever you want to call it, but it certainly hasn’t gone away as a hot topic all across football from officials through managers and players and also from fans. One attempt to improve things comes from UEFA every season running the ‘Respect Fair Play rankings’ , based on all UEFA competition matches played at club and national team levels, with this season’s ranking table running between 1st May 2012 and 30th April 2013.

As far as last year is concerned meanwhile Norway, Finland and the Netherlands finished as the top three ‘fair players’ and two of those three countries, in Norway and Finland, are currently in the top three again this season, while the Netherlands are hot on their tails in fifth spot. The prize for being one of the top three countries being an additional place, provided the country attains a ranking average of eight points or more, in the first qualifying round of the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League for the club that wins its domestic top-division fair play competition. That eight point rule not really being a problem barrier though as all the top 13 at present are currently above that level.

One other rule which does cause a problem for some countries however is that, up to the last ranking calculation date of 31st December only associations that have played a minimum of 27 games are taken into consideration, with the cut-off point being calculated by dividing the total number of UEFA fixtures by the number of member national associations. The Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Albania, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra then all falling foul there as they drop out of the running.

The Respect Fair Play assessments meanwhile are made by the official UEFA delegates, based on criteria such as positive play, respect for the opponent, respect for the referee, behaviour of the crowd and team officials, as well as cautions and dismissals. It doesn’t look like that kind of thing goes down too well around and about the Balkans area though as the bottom five in the current table, reading from the wooden spoon upwards, are Montenegro, Turkey, Armenia, Macedonia and Bosnia/Herzegovina.

It really is noticeable too how much of a difference there is ranking points between Western and Eastern Europe, with only Cyprus, Israel and Malta featuring outside Eastern Europe from between last place 47th and as high as 27th place where Hungary sit. Although I’m sure you might have guessed who would be the worst offenders as far as you can classify Western Europe is concerned, yep, no surprises there, it’s Italy in 26th.

Up at the other end of the table only the Czech Republic feature in the top 15 from Eastern Europe if you were to split the continent in half along the traditional lines, while you can then split it even further with all the top seven coming from Northern Europe, while four of the top six are the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Closer to home meanwhile England and Scotland are two of the other top seven countries in fourth and seventh places respectively, with Northern Ireland then in tenth and Wales in 12th. As far as the Great British countries are concerned all of them are above the eight point line, although Wales just scrape in at 8.021, while the Republic of Ireland are the ones letting down the British Isles as they currently sit in 19th place on just 7.93 points.

It’s all about getting into the top three though and securing that place for one of your clubs in the first qualifying round of the Europa League next season. As for last year’s recipients meanwhile, this season saw Norwegians Stabaek fall at the first hurdle against JJK Jyvaskyla from Finland, while Finnish ‘fair players’ MyPa 47 went out at the same stage to Romanian outfit Rapid Bucharest. At least Dutch club FC Twente made it to the group stage of the competition though, only to come bottom of their mini-table with no wins from six games. Improvement needed next year then for the lucky three, maybe with one of them from England.