It must have been in the November of 1999 when a hand appeared through the dressing room door at Pittodrie and an unfurled fingered beckoned me towards the manager’s office.
At 22, being summoned this way was bit like when the school secretary interrupted one of your lessons to escort you to the Head’s office. Never a good sign.
Your mind begins to race, running through the last few days desperately trying to remember any misdemeanour you’d thought had escaped punishment.
You think to yourself, “What have I done now? I thought I was alright in training today? He’s going to drop me, isn’t he? Maybe someone’s put a bid in or wants to take me on loan.”
By the time I knocked on the office door, I’d convinced myself that after my less than impressive start to life in Aberdeen that they decision had already been made to ship me out on loan to regain a bit of form and build up my confidence.
As I opened the door, it wasn’t the manager, Ebbe Skovdahl, sitting behind the desk strewn with match reports, player CVs and other paraphernalia. It was Keith Burkinshaw, who was Director of Football at the time.
“Sit down, David. I want to talk to you about something that’s been really bothering me.” he said, in his broad South Yorkshire tone.
He was typically old school. Abrupt at times but authoritative. Someone who you respected. I certainly did anyway.
I was well versed in his bringing World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa to English football and just old enough to remember Tony Parkes’s penalty saving heroics for Keith’s Spurs side in the 1984 UEFA Cup final so I knew his word was to be listened to.
By this point, I didn’t have a clue what was coming next but I was listening intently.
“David, can I ask you why you swear so much? There really is no need for it.
“I watched you for the whole game and all I could hear was you running after referees, shouting at your players.
“I want you to be loud, I want you to talk but do you have to use the “F” word?”. I nearly fell off my chair.
He had a point of course. In a stadium that could hold 21,000 people, when there’s only a few hundred attending to watch the second string play, you can almost hear every utterance, every single sound.
“There are young children coming to watch you play. They all want to play for Aberdeen one day and if they hear you talk like that, don’t you think they’ll want to do it too?”.
At the time though, I was young and impetuous so I dismissed his point out of hand by apologising and saying I’d try to curb my cursing in the future. Keith left his post in the new year and along with him went my promise.
It looks totally ridiculous on reflection but in my mind it was proof to everyone how much I cared, how much I really wanted to win the game.
In a rough estimate, I’d say 80 per cent of the yellow cards I received in my career would be down to dissent.
What I wasn’t seeing was that it was affecting my performance and those around me.
Five seconds spent contesting a referee’s decision is five seconds where you’re not fully focused on your job and it’s only now, from the position in the dugout that I’ve moved to in recent years, that I can see that contesting every free kick, corner or throw-in just looks plain silly.
The call from the FA, Premier League and the Football League to clamp down on this behaviour couldn’t come quick enough for my liking and they have make sure they stick stick to their guns with a zero tolerance approach.
Any kind of abuse of aggressive gesturing towards the officials should result in a yellow card.
It’s for the good of the game, not just so it sets a better example to the kids watching the game but it’s for the good of the game in general.
Instead of whining to the ref, players will set about getting back in the right position so the opposition can’t take advantage of them switching off.
The game will flow better, saving the 30 seconds from players trudging over to the refs and pretending their socks need adjusting as they’re being admonished.
This has been a long time coming and if the players adhere to the guidelines then not only will you see the game improve from more play and less confrontation.
Not only that, if the players let the referees get on with their job without having to be a part-time bouncer too, then we’ll see them make more consistently correct decisions because their focus isn’t being hindered. And trust me, they will.