Football : Helping fans to read the bans

Libero Ian Ridley on football
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The Independent Online
Hands up those who can follow the disciplinary procedure in the professional game? Me neither. It becomes hard to understand who is suspended, why and for how long, particularly now as bans begin to bite.

Points against players who commit offences on the field range from one to four. At the lower end of the scale is "entering the field without the referee's permission". At the higher, foul tackles, dangerous play, shirt-pulling, tripping and dissent warrant four points.

In between come persistent infringements, obstruction and encroaching at a free-kick (three points); intentional handball, wasting time and ungentlemanly conduct (two points). Players who reach 21 points by the end of November are suspended for three matches, by the end of February two and by the end of April one. More bans follow at 33 points.

Sendings-off vary from one to three matches. Second bookable offences and "professional" fouls bring one match, abusive language two and violent conduct three. All bans begin a fortnight after the last offence.

In theory this is simple and logical enough; more so than international rules which see a player banned for one match after two yellow cards no matter the seriousness of the offences. Seeing Ryan Giggs suspended for Wales for two trivial offences against San Marino, thus receiving the same punishment as for two bad fouls, seemed unjust.

Domestic confusion arises because it is difficult, for supporters especially, to keep abreast of how many points are awarded against players, depending on the referee's definition of the offence. Imagine being an Arsenal fan these days. How often does one turn up at a game surprised that someone is not playing?

No matter the points-value of an offence, a yellow card is brandished. One hesitates to impose new duties on already overworked referees, but is it not possible for them to show different colours to illustrate the severity of the offence, and thus the punishment?

Failing that, it should at least be possible in this computer age for the Premiership and Nationwide League to issue an updated weekly list of how many points a player has accumulated. It could then be published in newspapers and club programmes. We realise that football is still in many ways a closed society (unlike in the United States, transfer fees and players' wages quoted are mostly shots in the dark as official figures are withheld) but it would be one way of improving communications.

HERE was an opportunity to get the inside story of Duncan Ferguson's spell at Her Majesty's pleasure in Barlinnie, we thought, when the guest speaker at a football writers' dinner was one Robbie Glen, former governor of the prison. But the discreet Mr Glen would divulge only one piece of information: Ferguson's first request upon admission was for the wall to be moved back 10 yards.

ONE has some sympathy for BBC and Sky given the amount of either/or ties when the FA Cup fourth-round draw was made but one can only hope that their choice of live matches in the future is more inventive than today's glorified Premiership matches. Commercialism intrudes more and more - smaller clubs giving up a chance of glory through switching home draws - and in the short term, ratings are ruling more than ever. If the Cup is not to lose its essential charm, it needs coverage of the more unequal contests to preserve the mystique that is in danger of disappearing. And that requires the smaller clubs to observe traditions.

LAST WEEK I took my young son to a non-League match and stood with him on the terraces. Nearby, one supporter was spewing forth a tirade of bad language and, worse, shouting racist remarks at opposition players. Being able to move away from such company remains the only real argument in favour of terracing, no matter the improvements in technology that the Labour MP Tom Pendry is pointing out.

As someone who grew up on mean terraces in the 1970s, exploited by uncaring clubs, I can only say that the present nostalgia is rose-tinted. The real solution to my recent non-League experience, I confess, was to have been less cowardly and to have confronted the bigot.

As a rule: Blow the whistle on time-wasters

Not so much a change of rule this week as a plea to enforce an existing one, which, after all has been the aim of Fifa guidelines. How often, frustratingly, do we see a defender placing his body between the ball and the attacker, arms outstretched, to shepherd the ball out of play for a goal-kick or throw-in by preventing the opponent from getting near it? The attacker is often penalised for trying to get around the defender and keep the ball in play. In addition, we have boring episodes of time-wasting in corners when attackers shield the ball.

Law 12 is quite clear. An indirect free-kick should be awarded: "When not playing the ball, intentionally obstructing an opponent, i.e. running between the opponent and the ball, or interposing the body so as to form an obstacle to the opponent." Out of fashion it may be, but referees should abide by it.