IT was supposed to restore civilised behaviour to football.

It was supposed to end the diving, swearing and fingerwagging on the field and the knee-jerk criticism and relentless intimidation of referees off it.

The ‘Respect’ campaign, launched by the Football Association at the start of the season, was supposed to promote understanding and restraint.

Anyone seen any yet? No, neither have I.

Not when Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear labels Martin Atkinson “a Mickey Mouse referee”.

Nor when Sunderland’s Roy Keane is sent to the stand for questioning the same official in the tunnel at Stamford Bridge.

And certainly not at a time when Sir Alex Ferguson is up before the Football Association on an improper conduct charge for a fingerjabbing tirade at referee Mike Dean during the recent match against Hull at Old Trafford.

Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Tony Mowbray are other Premier League managers who have been highly critical of refereeing standards.

In a shade more than three months it appears the pursuit of respect, which amounted to little more than officials and managers meeting for a chat before each game, has been replaced by open contempt.

How can such a worthy campaign have gone so horribly wrong so quickly?

There is no simple answer, other than the fact that the job of a football manager has never been more pressurised and the role of a referee more demanding.

Managers complain about the inconsistency of officials, the fitness of referees, the lack of trust in decision-making, while so many refereeing decisions are dissected by television’s copious slowmotion replays and shown to be dubious.

The referees’ riposte would be that they are doing a difficult job as best they can at a time when football is out of step with most mainstream sports in resisting the use of technology.

That surely is the bottom line. Referees do not try to get decisions wrong.

And Kinnear’s suggestion that they do not “put their hands up if they make mistakes”

does not tally with the apology Hampshire ref Rob Styles offered Bolton for the phantom penalty he awarded to Manchester United earlier this season.

There are bound to be mistakes.

Referees have bad matches, just like players.

And just as a player might be dropped, referees must accept punishment for unacceptable performances.

That does not mean respect cannot exist. But if the Respect campaign is not going to stall it needs the bighitters to jump on board.

It needs Ferguson to be seen to curb his temper.

It needs Arsene Wenger to stop defending the indefensible and accept that Robin van Persie, for instance, deserved to be sent off for his reckless barge on Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

It needs Keane to bite his razor-sharp tongue and Kinnear to refrain from spewing nonsense.

There has to be a truce in the mindless war between the game’s authorities and its professionals.

The ranting has to stop.