New dissent rule made in cloud cuckoo land

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The Independent Football

It's not easy to court popularity and still make the right decisions. In football this applies equally to administrators and referees. Managers often hark back to the days when, they say, referees shared a laugh and a joke with the players. Some did, but they weren't the best officials. They just thought they were.

It's not easy to court popularity and still make the right decisions. In football this applies equally to administrators and referees. Managers often hark back to the days when, they say, referees shared a laugh and a joke with the players. Some did, but they weren't the best officials. They just thought they were.

By contrast nobody got too close to Jack Taylor, not even Johan Cruyff, whom the Wolverhampton butcher booked at half-time in a World Cup final. What we demand of our referees and administrators, and are entitled to expect, is a combination of firmness and clarity.

Neither was apparent during an incident at Old Trafford in the Manchester United against Sunderland match. The 10-yard rule was supposed to be the panacea for all the game's ills. Dissent would be stamped out overnight.

Encroachment at free-kicks would be a thing of the past. Forget it.

United were awarded a free-kick on the very edge of the penalty area. Sunderland's Don Hutchison argued with the referee, Neale Barry.

Mr Barry, normally calm, competent and unfussy, showed Hutchison the yellow card and, to the bemusement of David Beckham, who, as most people know, is pretty lethal from 18 yards, advanced the ball 10 yards and thereby lost the plot completely. Most referees are advised to use the pitch markings as a guide to distances in such instances. No problem with the ball, as this was placed eight yards from the goal. But when the defenders were allowed to line up not on the goal-line as the law required but in front of it, then Beckham's task suddenly became even more difficult. When they were allowed to charge out, it was impossible. At the moment he actually kicked the ball two defenders were on the six-yard line and forced the ball away for a corner.

End result? A shambles, in which one United player nearly lost his shirt.

The referee is still obliged to caution the dissenter, which defeats the object, and the new rule penalises the wrong team if it is not properly enforced.

It is cloud cuckoo land to believe that dissent can be reduced by adopting a new rule, as the problem has gone unchecked for too long by managers who were never required to study the laws of the game. A change of attitude would be far better.

The new video panel was set up to review yellow and red cards, but its first recommendation, to reduce Gary McAllister's red card to a yellow, was rejected by a disciplinary meeting. So what happens next, now the professionals have been snubbed? Maybe someone will risk unpopularity by pointing out that the professionals don't always get it right. If they did there would be no problems in football at all.

The decision to replay the Arsenal v Sheffield United FA Cup tie was popular generally, if not at Fifa, the world governing body of the game. However, there has been a recent claim from Bristol Rovers for a replay after Notts County were alleged to have committed a similar breach of the unwritten code. The Football League were obliged to point out that no rule had been broken.

During my time as a football administrator I was not unaccustomed to being doused in vitriol. It was sometimes unpleas- ant and I still carry the baggage today, but so what? It's a small price to pay for the return I enjoyed on my involvement with the greatest unrehearsed spectacle in entertainment.

It did not go down well when I gave evidence in court on behalf of a player accused of maliciously injuring an opponent. I was not unsympathetic towards the injured party, but I felt the accused did not act with intent and there would have been serious ramifications for the whole of sport from a guilty verdict.

I also received opprobrium about cases in which I had absolutely no involvement. It's all down to presentation, I suppose, for nowadays administrators place much more emphasis on this.

We should not be too concerned about being popular, by fretting about the number of yellow cards and borrowing rules from other sports, but rather we should support referees who are firm and they will then have the confidence to get on with the job.

There was another dispute over returning the ball after an injury stoppage in the Derby County against Middlesbrough match. I can't become any more unpopular in Middlesbrough than I already am owing to one of the occasions I've already referred to, so I will just point out that Middlesbrough were wrong to expect to get the ball back, as they had kicked it out to allow their own player to receive treatment.

The code should be clarified now.

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