Football: Ashby says sin-bin is the only way forward

Norman Fox hears a former Fifa referee stress need for rethink
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The Independent Online
SIGNIFICANT SUPPORT for introducing the sin-bin to football and abandoning yellow cards has come from Gerald Ashby, who recently retired as a Premiership and Fifa referee but remains an official observer and referees' coach. He also believes that this season many more players should have been sent off. The views of an official with his experience will be taken seriously in forthcoming meetings about the disciplinary crisis.

Accepting that there is much more indiscipline than when he stopped refereeing only two years ago, Ashby said: "The Premier League is on this roller- coaster ride. The entertainment gets better but you have to look at the forces that drive the game... success for the clubs, which are institutions, and the desire to enter lucrative European competitions, especially the Champions' League. So the players are under far more pressure from their managers and, in turn, the shareholders. Some players respond by making mistakes, others by having their tension overcome them. I'm afraid that this season all of that has come out in increasing foul and unsporting play."

He says that cheating is rife. "Over the last few years, especially with foreign players - there is no question about that - there is this readiness to go to ground far more easily in a challenge than the traditional English footballer. Before the influx of foreign players, English ones would ride challenges, or try to, but it doesn't happen any more. When a player doesn't go down others say that if he had taken the easy option he would have gone down and got the kick."

Players who "play on other players' weaknesses" were also criticised by Ashby, who said: "They know that there are players who will over-react to the slightest intimidation. They know that the player will be shown a card of one colour or another." The yellow one, he said, was no longer a valid form of control. "It's so common now that I really feel it's time the authorities looked for other measures to control players. If you look at the Steve Staunton affair in which he was sent off, clearly the second caution was not correct. If for technical offences like that there was a sin-bin sort of punishment he could have been removed for 10 or 15 minutes then come back and it wouldn't have had the same impact on the game.

"I feel that the important thing is to remove reckless play and gamesmanship. Players who kick the ball away or dissent against referees, while it's not nice, do not deserve the same penalty as somebody who blatantly chops down an opponent. For other offences which are far more damaging to the welfare of the game itself, you would immediately expel the player concerned. You could transfer the yellow card to the sin-bin and the serious challenges to the immediate red card.

"I've been horrified at some of the challenges that have been made this season. In the first five weeks I thought there ought to have been another 10 red cards. There were challenges by players in the matches between Liverpool and Everton and Liverpool and Manchester United which should have led to them being sent off, and there are plenty of other examples. On the Continent it's two yellows then a suspension, so clubs are mindful of it and players behave themselves better. I think the European disciplinary system is working better than ours. If players abroad get a yellow card they are frightened, but here they can almost laugh it off. The yellow card is commonplace; it doesn't mean anything. It's not a punishment."

Although managers and players rarely show much inclination to understand referees' difficulties, Ashby said: "There is more acknowledgement now that there is a problem with players' discipline. Indeed, Peter Reid last weekend admitted that his players lost discipline. The people who have power must take responsibility and not put the blame elsewhere. Traditionally, the referee has been the scapegoat and he would not respond because he didn't want a public slanging match which would lead to a loss of dignity. The referee cannot afford to put his dignity and respect at risk."

Ashby is totally against the two-referees proposal. "It's a non-starter in my view. We are trying to get consistency and you can only get that by having one mind in one game, not having two in one game trying to control the same thing." As for the greater use of television replays, he said: "It's inevitable that technology is going to creep into the game. It's already there with communications between the referee and his assistants. It could be used in matters of fact, not opinion. A challenge in the penalty area can bring different responses. It would be difficult to ask someone to sit in the stand and adjudicate... if that's the case you might as well have him sitting in the stand all the time."