Is this the end of bad behaviour in football – a green card, then tea and cakes?

It's depressing that this little scheme is deemed necessary to coax footballers into behaving decently

Tom Peck
Saturday 12 September 2015 00:10
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A referee keeps a close eye on proceedings in last season’s Serie B play-off final. The league’s president is calling for ‘good behaviour’ cards to be handed out
A referee keeps a close eye on proceedings in last season’s Serie B play-off final. The league’s president is calling for ‘good behaviour’ cards to be handed out

We can only imagine Andreas Abodi was at the urinals in Amsterdam airport, vainly attempting to administer death by micturition on an obdurate housefly when the idea came to him.

Dismayed by the descent of his country’s national game into a barely disguised front for match-fixing which, mystifyingly, appears to be still worth stabbing one another over, the president of Serie B has transformed Italy’s second tier into football’s very own Nudge Unit.

Enter the “green card”. From now, referees will, at the end of matches, retrospectively award green cards as a reward for instances of fair play, with the only stipulation being, in Abodi’s own words: “They have to be extraordinary acts, not ordinary ones.”

Il Diavolo is going to be in the detail with this one. Given it is against the rules for these cards to impact upon the run of the match, and no one yet knows quite what they will be awarded for and what the prize might be, it is hard to foresee quite what impact they might have.

Italian football may now be little more than a Cosa Nostra thriller with some meaningless football attached, but it is still nice to imagine that little trinkets just for being a decent person might be all that’s needed to sort it all out. Had that priest rewarded Michael Corleone’s renunciation of Satan with the flourishing of a green card whipped from under the cassock, the Hollywood Tesco Extra might never have suddenly had so much free lasagne meat on its hands.

But those flies in the toilets at Amsterdam Schiphol, made famous by David Cameron’s beloved behavioural psychology bible Nudge were, of course, etched on. That was the point. And whether it is now too late for any attempt to hose away football’s persistent ills is a difficult question to ponder.

That Abodi’s announcement should have come mere days before Sahr Kabba, the free-scoring, cartwheeling Peter Beagrie of the Vanarama National League, became the first player to be sanctioned under the FA’s new rule on feigning injury is a case in point. And it’s one that Welling United fans will have to ponder over their next three tricky, Kabba-less fixtures against Torquay, Aldershot and Gateshead.

There are already treats to be had for fair play, as West Ham found out on their pre-season Europa League qualifying gap year trek round Andorra, Malta, Timbuktu and finally Romania, where a reserve team came terrifyingly close to accidentally winning against the mighty Astra Giurgiu. A red card in every round and – just to be on the safe side – also in three out of four Premier League matches so far is a severe way of making sure no one ever again tries to give you a little present just for being nice, but it will work.

Abodi has merely revealed that at the end of the season there will be an as yet unknown “reward” for the teams, players and managers with the most green cards, but whether a group of highly pressured, results-driven and still highly remunerated footballers will surrender the all but proven competitive advantage that comes from bending the rules, in return for what may turn out to be a long weekend on the Amalfi coast, we shall have to wait and see.

Obviously, it’s depressing that this little scheme is deemed necessary to coax footballers into behaving in a fashion that comes as standard to their counterparts in almost all other sports, but more draconian options are available. The Rugby World Cup starts next week and with it will come the reassuringly constant rhapsodies on a theme of “Why can’t footballers behave like rugby players?”, “Why won’t they call the referee ‘sir’?” and “Why can’t they too just do a deferential curtsy in the face of rank injustice and walk back 10 yards, apologising as they go?”

It is an easy problem to solve. If three red cards were met with an automatic five-year stretch at a half-decent public school, then the worst that might then happen is the odd dwarf getting thrown across a bar and the occasional assault of a female police officer – mere trifles when compared to going down a touch easy in the penalty box.

And yes, you might argue that rugby, along with tennis, athletics, boxing, cricket, fencing, squash, snooker, chess, model-aircraft flying and every other sport that’s ever been played are all awash with blood-doping, blood capsule-biting, match-fixing, steroid-taking and every other type of cheating you can think of, but they’re all so much politer to the officials, and that’s what counts.

Still, we will be watching Serie B with interest, and only a quiet hope that it might transform into a carnival of pleases and thank yous and physios dashing on with tea and cake for everyone. But it’s more likely, one has to think, that they’ll all just carry on going over at little more than a nudge.

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