A FORMER Football League official has demanded more respect for referees.

And Tony Leake, from Darwen, who took charge of 450 games during a career that spanned more than 20 years, said players who cheat or harrang officials should be banned or their team deducted points.

The 49-year-old officiated his last game this year between Sheffield United, now in the Premiership, and Crystal Palace.

Since then he has watched controversy surround the men, and women, of his former profession.

And although he freely admitted referees make mistakes, he slammed the players for their treatment of officials and called for tougher sanctions to protect, what is quickly becoming a dying breed - according to the FA 7,000 referees are trained every year and a similar amount are lost.

He said: "Referees have been in the limelight a lot this year, a lot more than I think they wanted to be, but it's the nature of the job. There has been mistakes, that's been clear for all to see, but on the whole I think it's been a good year.

"It's been well documented about Graham's (Poll) mistake at the World Cup, but to his credit, he stood up afterwards and admitted he was wrong to all and sundry.

"From the pictures it appears to be a silly mistake to make, but in the heat of the battle it's easy to make those kind of mistakes.

"I think there is far too much questioning of referee's decisions.

"It's the high profile teams that seem to do it more often nowadays.

"I was a referee in the Football League and I can never remember being surrounded by players after a decision. It's ridiculous.

"Sometimes it's not a decision that they want, like a free kick or a penalty.

"The other week there when Chelsea were playing Arsenal, the Chelsea players were clamouring around poor Alan Wiley, trying to get him to book one of the Arsenal players.

"Players and managers have got to take a long hard look at themselves and maybe it's time for the PFA to step in and introduce new guidelines.

"They've all got a responsibility. There should be a code of conduct drawn up and anyone who breaches it should be taken to task.

"The problem is, with clubs like Chelsea, will fining them really have any impact?

"For me, it would have to be a points deduction.

"A couple of warnings initially, but if they're ignored, then take points from the team."

Players diving and simulation has also become more prevalent in the game today.

And Mr Leake described it as a "cancer" that had to be tackled in a similar way.

He added: "Referees can't always tell, but if it's subsequently proved that they have dived, like Ronaldo did against Middlesborough, then he should be taken out of the game for a couple of matches.

"And if it's done again then the club should be punished.

"These days games are won and lost by cheating. That's not what it's all about.

"People pay good money to watch players perform, not to con their way through a game.

"At normal speed I would've given Ronaldo a penalty and everyone I spoke to said the same. But when you watched it in slow motion, he clearly dived.

"For me it's a cancer and it needs to be cut out, and the only way to do that is to have deterrents.

"An arbitary body should be set up, which has nothing to do with the clubs, and if a player is found guilty of diving or simulation, then they should be suspended for a game. And if it's done again then the club should be punished."

Calls have also come this season for the use of video technology, similar to that used in cricket and in both codes of rugby.

But this was dismissed by Mr Leake, who subscribed to the theory that decisions "even themselves out" over the course of a season.

He said: "Referees went professional a few years ago, but I remember saying at the time that it wouldn't alter the decisions.

"They're probably fitter, but it's the same pair of eyes they are looking through.

"There's always been contentious decisions. If I go and watch Blackburn Rovers, I don't want to see any technology.

"I can accept that referees and players make mistakes.

"But mistakes are part and parcel of the game, it's what makes it the game we love so much. I'd hate to see technology introduced and it made sterile."