GUTTED Steve Halford admits he can't believe the "bad boy" image he has acquired over this season.
The Accrington Stanley defender has been sent off four times during this campaign - and the Football Association say they think the record in a season is five sendings-off by a Torquay player around a decade a go.
Halford, who now faces a four match ban, knows he has to avoid this unwanted tag but doesn't know how he can clean up his game to stop the sending's off.
All the Stanley fans who have watched "Hacker" know he is a no-nonsense, committed defender who never gives less than 100 per cent. The words "dirty" or "malicious" do not apply to him.
"As I have said before, the only red card I think was right was the one against Colchester for dissent," said the former Bury player. "I was too fired up then but the rest - I think they were largely undeserved, I just can't believe what has happened this season."
The latest early bath came against Hereford last Saturday when the 23-year-old was judged to have fouled Bulls hitman Steve Guinan as the two slid into the area together trying to get on the end of Michael Rose's cross. A penalty was awarded, Halford was shown a straight red and Tony James slotted home the spot-kick winner.
"I couldn't believe it when he showed me a straight red. There was nothing malicious," said Halford. "When I saw he had awarded a penalty, that was bad enough. I went up to the ref but, after the dissent against Colchester, I didn't say anything as I didn't want the same to happen again."
"But when he showed me the red I just said "you're joking" - I was shocked - and then when I was walking off Steve Guinan came up and said it was harsh. They didn't appeal or anything."
"I feel like I am a marked man this season. To an extent, I feel like I am being victimised. I think the club's and my reputation now goes before us."
Halford's sending off was the 12th for Stanley this season. The Reds had been told by the Football Association last month to clean up their act because of their poor disciplinary record or they will face a fine at the end of the season.
The club has acknowledged they have to improve their discipline as they have also received 77 yellow cards in the Conference this season.
But Halford knows he wouldn't have done anything differently on Saturday.
"What am I to do? Can I not tackle? I am worried now about what challenges I should make and what if I miss-time them? I know if I hadn't gone into the tackle with Steve Guinan then I would have got a rollicking from Coley.
"I was watching the Premiership the other day and Blackburn defender Craig Short was saying that football isn't a physical game anymore - you can't do anything without getting booked - and I agree but it is part of the way I play. I can't change my game."
It has been a hard season for Halford who has had a complete turnaround in fortunes from the year before when the Reds won the UniBond Premier League.
Then he was the only ever-present in the Stanley team and hardly put a foot wrong.
"I played in all 54 games - I didn't miss one last season," said Halford. "So it is a shock what has happened this season. I know there is a lot more at stake this year but I have felt disappointed with some of the refereeing. But I have just got to get on with it and keep my head up."
"But I do hate to think I have let the fans down. A lot of them came up to me on Saturday and said "bad luck" and they thought it was harsh but other people will just think "It's Halford again" - and I think that is unfair. I feel like writing a letter to the FA just to get it all off my chest. I know it won't do me any good but I just want to have my say."
"I would like the FA to come and see first hand some of the decisions the referees make and what we as a team have been booked for."
"I will have missed around 15 games through suspension this season - it is a nightmare. If I had punched an opponent I would have probably got less."
And he admits the fines are also hard on him - especially as he is getting married in the summer. "It is killing me going home with no money every week! I am meant to be saving up but I can't do it with all these fines."
Halford doesn't know how he can clean up his act next season as he has to keep tackling and playing the way he does - but says he might work on his image.
"I might grow my hair and put blonde streaks in it like Flickers and go into midfield then hopefully I won't have as many problems!"
But joking aside, he is going through it at the moment. "I need to keep my head up."
"It is a worry everytime I go into a challenge now but I have just got to carry on. I don't want to be in the Guinness Book of Records for the most sendings off in a season though."
Boss John Coleman backs his defender. "Steve has been unlucky this season. He is an honest, aggressive player and is not dirty, " he said.