FA to play hardball over foul language

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The Independent Football

Six of the most influential men in English football gathered in the bowels of a Soho hotel to launch the campaign. Brian Barwick, the FA's chief executive, and Keith Hackett, general manager of the Professional Match Officials Board, were flanked by the chief executives of the Premiership (Richard Scudamore) and the League Managers Association (John Barnwell), the Football League's chief operating officer (Andy Williamson) plus the deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association (Mick McGuire). The message conveyed is that the game is united on the issue.

How long this unanimity lasts remains to be seen. The players and managers are on board for the moment, but their support may waver once the red cards appear. And that seems an inevitable consequence of a hard-line approach to players using foul, abusive or insulting language. In action prompted, perhaps, by the outcry that followed Wayne Rooney's abuse of Graham Poll at Highbury last winter, it "has been made very clear", to quote Hackett, that such behaviour will in future result in dismissal.

Rooney, admitted Hackett, could, and should, have been sent off under the existing interpretation of the law, but under the new one he definitely would be. "Spontaneous reactions of disagreement," which involve foul language, can still be dealt with by a quiet word from the referee but "premeditated" or "aggressive" postures will mean red.

"The will is there to back this," insisted Barwick when reminded that similar campaigns had been watered down by October. That said, both Scudamore and Barnwell reserved the right to review the situation during the season. Clubs have additionally been told that "mass confrontation", whether between players and referees, or opposing teams, is unacceptable.

There have also been changes in the application of laws involving foul tackles and offside. A "reckless" tackle, whether from behind or not, should now result in a booking, and a reckless one endangering a player's safety should spell red. Not that the English game will go soft. While Hackett conceded "the pendulum" may have swung too far towards robust play since he replaced Philip Don at the PMOB, the response of McGuire and Barnwell suggested players and managers prefer his approach.

The confusing passive-active distinction remains for offside, but with players now able to be regarded as "active", and flagged offside, later in the move. This is aimed to stop players benefiting from deliberately taking up positions that would have been offside under the original interpretation.

Other changes include the dropping, at the insistence of Fifa, of the 10-yard sanction for dissent. Players must also stand two metres away from the takers at throw-ins.

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