ASTON Villa manager Martin O’Neill has implored football officials to salvage the “bruised” Respect the Ref campaign by publicly explaining their decisions.

O’Neill is concerned that the FA crusade aimed at banishing the abuse aimed at referees by players and managers is already in danger of being derailed.

Managers including Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, Newcastle United’s Joe Kinnear and Derby County’s Paul Jewell have jeopardised the campaign by publicly criticising referees in recent weeks.

However, O’Neill subscribes to the view that greater transparency from the game’s on-field law enforcers would earn them more respect.

“I think there will be one or two cases where you think it has been derailed, but the essence of the whole thing shouldn’t be lost,” said the Ulsterman.

“What they have set out to do was always going to be difficult, but it was worth having a go. Even if you think it has been badly bruised if not broken, I think we should stick with it.

“The referee’s job is very difficult. You always feel that the decisions are not going in your direction or you get a collection of them, three or four on the trot, and you argue vehemently.

“You feel there is, and I hate to use the word, a conspiracy, and then the last thing you need to see when you are enraged by a decision is a referee coming over to laugh it off, as if to say ‘sit down you fool’. That is enraging rather than anything else.”

O’Neill is of the opinion that referees, like managers, should be made to face television cameras and address journalists at post-match press conferences. The Villa manager insists officials who explain controversial decisions and apologise for incorrect judgements would go up in his estimation.

“There are angles and TV cameras are everywhere, and we are debating these decisions for days afterwards, and some have been very costly to teams and that is always going to be the case.

“This is where I think the referees might help. If there is something unbelievably contentious in the game, which has sent it in another direction and been very costly, I can’t see why there is any reason that they can’t come out and explain.

“I can’t see why they can’t say ‘This is what I thought at the time, I am prepared to be wrong, I don’t want to be wrong.’

“What I don’t want them to do is be phoning football clubs on a Monday morning and apologising just because someone has told them to.

“It would be better if they said publicly ‘I made this honest decision, this is what I thought. Sorry, I have got it wrong’.”

n??Martin Hansson, the referee in charge of Liverpool’s recent Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid, has admitted receiving death threats over his decision to award a late penalty to Reds captain Steven Gerrard.

The Swedish referee pointed to the spot in the fourth minute of stoppage time of the game at Anfield, which Atletico were winning 1-0 at the time, for what he perceived to be a push on Gerrard from Mariano Pernia.

The decision cost the Spanish club a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, and has since been derided by many in the Spanish media.

Speaking for the first time about the aftermath of incident, Hansson told Swedish newspaper Sport-Expressen he has had to change numbers and inform the police over a number of threatening calls and text messages.

“I have received death threats. It has been horrible and feels very uncomfortable,” he said.

“I had enough. The phone ran all the time and I had a great many text messages. I am pretty used to this, but now I’ve had enough. It has been very threatening. I feel completely fed up, quite simply.”