Football: Sin-Bins and Orange cards

A potential candidate as next FIFA president, Jerome Champagne, recently brought the issue of sin-bins to the fore again. And he mooted the use of an orange card to signify the expulsion of a player to a sin-bin. This is an issue that could be viewed as either a cast for votes, or a can of worms.

What is a sin-bin? When a player is expelled from the field of play for a fixed amount of time he sits in the sin-bin (usually a bench with a cover) while his time runs down. Sometimes the sin-bin is metaphorical, there is no actual structure, and the player just sits out his time on his team bench.

What is an orange card? An orange card is an orange card. The referee already has a red card and a yellow card, so an orange card would give him a third option. The referee would brandish this orange card to indicate to player and spectators that this player has been sent to the sin-bin.

Why orange? Presumably M Champagne hit upon orange as it is midway between red and yellow.

What is a yellow card used for? Before cards were introduced the referee would caution a player who committed one of a number of offences. This acted as a warning to the player, and served to inform the player that if he committed another similar offence then he would be dismissed from (sent off) the field of play, and his team would play the rest of the game with one less member.

What is the red card used for? This simply indicates that the referee has dismissed (sent off) a player for a major infringement, and his team plays the rest of the game with one less member.

Yellow-red card (football)

Why red and yellow? A sending-off is pretty obvious to everyone involved but, before cards were introduced, the cautioning of a player was not so clear. The referee would inform the player and then write the player’s name in his notebook. This was referred to as a ‘booking’, but sometimes it was not clear who was being booked, and occasionally no-one but the referee knew a booking had taken place. This came to a head at a big World Cup match in 1966, when there was a lot of confusion both during and after the match as to who had and hadn’t been booked.

The head of referees at this World Cup, Ken Aston, thought that something had to be done. As he was driving home that evening he pondered the situation. Cautions and sendings-off had to be clear to players and spectactors, so a kind of symbol was needed. He looked up at some traffic lights and got his inspiration: a red light indicating stop, and a yellow (or amber) light indicating caution. When was the last time you ever heard of a referee coming up with a useful idea? Red and yellow cards were first implemented at the 1970 World Cup, and have been standard ever since. In fact many other sports have also adopted similar colored cards.

(Incidentally I had the chance to meet Ken Aston in person. My school team had just won the local under 11 league and Mr Aston, whose main job was as headmaster at a neighbouring school (Newbury Park School, Ilford, London), kindly came to present the trophy. I was the captain so I had the pleasure to receive the cup from Mr Aston, a real gent. As a referee I recall he was impeccably fair, and very low-key. He seemed more like a butler serving the game, very undemonstrative, keeping out of the limelight, perhaps England’s finest ref. In addition he was the first referee to wear black, he had the idea of linesmen’s flags to be bright yellow, he forced through the pressure of balls to be standardized in the laws of the game, he pioneered substitute referees in case of injury, which later became known as the fourth official, and he also introduced numbered boards to clarify player substitutions. Has another ref done anything more for the game?)

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

Are sin-bins a good move for football? The knee-jerk reaction is probably to say yes. Sin-bins have been around in other sports for a long time (since 1904 in ice hockey), and have stood the test of time, so why not football? There is much to consider.

What are the merits of sin-bins?

  • At present there are only two punishments a football referee can deploy: awarding a free kick, and showing a card. A yellow card is merely a warning and a red card is an extreme punishment so a sin-binning would provide a less extreme third option.
  • A sin-bin is an immediate punishment, which somehow feels right.
  • A sin-bin not only punishes the offending team, but is also advantageous to the team who were on the receiving end of the offence. Contrast this with a red card in the last minute of a game, when the offending team loses a player for a minute, but the player is subsequently suspended for the next few games against different opposition. Thus the real advantage lies with rival teams.
  • A sin-bin provides time for the player to reflect on his digression, and helps to defuse volatile situations.

What are the demerits of a sin-bin?

This is perhaps best answered with a series of questions.

  • How long should the sin-binning last?
  • Is it real time, or actual playing time?
  • What happens if the sin-binning takes place very near the end of the game?
  • If a team loses 5 players to the sin-bin should the game be abandoned (teams with less than 7 players automatically forfeit the game), even if one of the sin-binned players has only a few seconds more to serve?
  • Can a player be yellow-carded and sin-binned for the same offence?
  • Would multiple sin-binning for the same player add up to a red card and/or a subsequent suspension?
  • Or is a sin-bin the sole punishment, and after serving the sin-binning a player effectively restarts with a clean slate?
  • What is a yellow card offence, and what kind of offence warrants sin-binning?
  • What happens if a referee mistakenly sin-bins a player?

And then there are the changes to play and tactics that sin-binning may bring in its wake.

  • Time-wasting. Can you imagine the time-wasting that will go on while a team-mate is sin-binned for (say) 10 minutes? The ball will be lodged by the corner flag with the inevitable kicking, shoving, histrionics and temper tantrums that we now endure in the last few minutes of some games. Thierry Henry would be in his element. The ball would be kicked high into the stands and would never come back. Who knows what else would happen. If three players are sin-binned in the same game then the spectators could be treated to an extra thirty minutes of time-wasting nonsense.
  • Use of substitutes. I can almost guarantee that if sin-bins were introduced then the clubs would push for more flexible use of substitutes. For example, a greater number of allowable substitutions, or the option of a substituted player re-entering the match. Maybe this is inevitable in any case, and maybe it has its merits, but I think this potential scenario should also be considered when debating sin-binning.

The whole idea of sin-bins is fraught with problems. Are we ready to open the can of worms? Not yet methinks. It requires a lot more debate, planning and trialling, and I don’t think it should hastily be rolled out without deep consideration.

The huge merit in my eyes is that the sin-bin system results in the opposition receiving the full advantage. A yellow card will oftentimes be of no real benefit to the opposition. A collection of yellow cards may result in a subsequent suspension benefiting rival teams.

The secondary merit is that it affords referees a medium option. Sending off is an extreme punishment, especially near the start of the game. A sin-binning is a reasonably harsh punishment, but way short of a sending off, and this option will probably result in a much more satisfying punishment than a free kick and yellow card. Referees may feel much more comfortable with multiple sin-binning than multiple sendings-off.

But it is a double-edged sword. Referees may also choke the red card punishment and continually take the soft sin-bin option, though you never know this might prove to be the best way.

IMHO the sin-bin is worth trialling, but even I can foresee a great many potential problems which can and should be addressed beforehand. Some problems could be eliminated, some reduced to an acceptable level, and some we may just have to live with, and deal with later. But let’s do what we can FIFA.

My suggestions

  • Have a game clock for professional games. Cut out much of the time-wasting. I read somewhere a bit of research which found that the ball is in play for about 60 minutes, and for the other 30 minutes there is no action. This seems like a good starting point. So how about 60 minutes of actual action with the clock stopped when play stops, and the rule that keepers should release the ball in 6 seconds should be enforced.
  • Award a free kick when a player shepherds the ball towards the corner of the pitch. Come on FIFA, address the problem, this is a simple one.
  • Have only sin-bins and red cards. Having three cards is too problematical; some referees fumble around with only two cards (by the way if three cards is the way, please don’t make the third one orange, it’s too similar to red, green would be my suggestion, which would complete Ken Aston’s traffic lights). Why not simply employ sin-binning instead of yellow cards. A yellow card offence becomes a sin-binning offence. In fact a yellow card can indicate a sin-bin.
  • The sin-bin is the complete punishment. In most cases I guess there will also be a free kick awarded, but surely the sin-bin is punishment enough for a non-sending-off offence. No need for double or triple whammies. If a player is sin-binned twice or thrice in the same match so be it, his team is punished each time.
  • The time in the sin-bin should be 15 minutes. A team might be able to get away with a lot of negative play for about 10 minutes, but 15 minutes is a different proposition, and tiredness would play a big part.

So let’s try sin-bins, but let’s avoid orange cards.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Quotations: FIFA

“We need a different FIFA,” he said, “More democratic, more respected, which behaves better and which does more.”

Who said it? Jerome Champagne, potential candidate for the next FIFA presidency. This was said a few days ago. In these days of soundbites and tweets these brief sentences encapsulate what is allegedly wrong with football’s governing body, FIFA.

Jerome Champagne

And frankly I agree with it. But even though the content strikes right at the heart of football’s troubles, how banal and unmemorable is this statement? Admittedly M Champagne has already received support from the most famous name in football ever, Pele, but I think his script could do with a few rhetorical tricks.

I am no professional soundbite writer, but off the top of my head, how about this:

“Do we not need a new direction? More democracy, more respect, better behaviour, and actual action.”

Football or Soccer?

The perennial question, should we say football or soccer?

It’s a big yawn for most Americans: football refers to the American gridiron sport, and soccer refers to the English goalscoring sport. So for North Americans the answer is simple.

However the rest of the world, where American Football is not so popular, refers to the English goalscoring sport as football (or the equivalent in its own language). Indeed the supervising authority, FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has the word football enshrined in its title. The word soccer is often avoided.

So that’s that. Outside of North America the English goalscoring sport is known as football, and in North America the gridiron game is known as football. And we just get on with it.

There are a number of related issues worth exploring, but in all honesty I cannot find anything to change my initial conclusion above.

What about other versions of football?

There are a huge number of football variants outside of American Football and soccer, for example rugby football, Australian Rules, Gaelic Football, but this issue tends to be centered on the American and English versions. The other variants have alternative names which they kindly use when referring to their sport outside their local community.

Is American Football really football?

American Football

In some ways it seems very strange to refer to American Football as football when the ball is elliptical (a prolate spheroid) not a sphere as are all other balls. A search through web clipart illustrates another point: the number of times the ball is touched by the foot, ie kicked, which totals about 20 or 30 per game. This would take about one minute in soccer. A typical American Football clipart above shows only one example where the ball is kicked. By comparison a typical clipart for soccer below is almost exclusively focused on kicking.

Basic RGBThe ball in American Football is usually thrown and caught and carried, and the fourth, and possibly most important element, is the tackling, not of the ball, but of the player. The title football for such a sport appears to be a misnomer, but so many things in this world have the wrong names which in time become so inextricably linked that it is practically impossible to change. This is probably one such example, no need to fuss.

How did the word soccer come about?

The original rules were drawn in London in 1863, where the full name for the English goalscoring game was designated as  Association Football. It is not clear whether the term association referred to the fact that football was a team sport, or whether it was an amalgamation of all the various sports of the time which purported to be football. But nevertheless the term association stuck.

And this is perhaps where the name soccer derived. The soc of association is possibly the origin of the word soccer. In some parts of the UK football is sometimes colloquially referred to as soccy (pronounced socky), and from here it is a short step to soccer. So soccer may well be a British term.

Personally I have no problem in using soccer as an alternative term to football. There is no stigma attached to the term soccer, and it bewilders me  when people apologize for using the term. Incidentally Australians refer to their national football team as the Socceroos, which provokes nothing but positive reaction. However I would always refer to a football player as a footballer, never a soccerer, and I would also use the adjective footballing, (as in ‘he was dropped for a footballing reason’) never soccering.

In conclusion it is the will of the people that always prevails. What I, or anyone else, may say or think has no bearing on which term is used. We just live with the fact that the term football covers both American gridiron and English soccer, and a great many other sports, which leaves us more time to appreciate the great sport of football.

PAOK Salonika 0-0 Spurs

Spurs drew 0-0 against PAOK Salonika (Greece) in a Europa Cup game.

Spurs were lucky when PAOK missed a penalty kick, but PAOK were lucky when Harry Kane (in the picture above) seemed to be fouled by the goalkeeper, but no PK was given to Spurs.

It was a pretty good result for Spurs, especially because their team had mostly youth players, for example Kane is only 17.

Hearts 0-5 Spurs

Rafael van der Vaart scores the first goal

My favourite football team, Tottenham Hotspurs (nickname Spurs) played their first match of the season yesterday.

It was away to Hearts (Scotland) in the first leg of the Europa Cup qualifying round. Spurs played really well and won 5-0 with goals from van der Vaart (Holland), Defoe (England), Livermore (England), Bale (Wales) and Lennon (England).

The second leg will be next week at White Hart Lane, Spurs’ home ground, and Spurs have a very good chance to progress to the next round.

Real Madrid 4-0 Spurs


Adebayor scores


It looks like Spurs’ European adventure is over. They were well beaten by Real Madrid in the first leg of the European Champions quarter-final.

Of course they could still qualify for the semi-final if they beat Real Madrid 5-0 in the second leg, possible but very very unlikely.

AC Milan 0-1 Spurs


Crouch scores the only goal

I can hardly believe it. Spurs are competing with the big boys. This time it’s the most powerful team in Italy, AC Milan, in the UEFA Champions League.

Crouch (England) scored the only goal of the game to give Spurs victory away from home. But Spurs are not through to the last 8, there is the return match to be played at Spurs’ home ground.

FC Twente 3-3 Spurs

FC Twente stadium
FC Twente stadium

Spurs continue their European adventure with another good result.

Although FC Twente (Holland) scored three goals Spurs also scored three times, og, Defoe-2, and a draw was enough for Spurs to win their group and qualify for the next stage of the European Cup.

There are now only 16 teams remaining, and Spurs have already progressed much further than anyone expected.

Spurs 3-0 Werder Bremen


The team celebrate another victory

A really good victory for Spurs in the European Champions League, 3-0 against Werder Bremen (Germany).

The goalscorers were Kaboul (France), Modric (Croatia) and Crouch (England).

Now Spurs are sure to qualify for the last 16, and the games from now will be on a home and away knock-out basis.

It is a wonderful time for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

Spurs 3-1 Inter Milan


Rafael van der Vaart can't stop scoring

It must be very rare to get to play against the last two European champions in the space of 3 days, but that is what just happened with Spurs.

Last Saturday they lost 0-2 against Manchester United the 2009 European champions with a rather weak performance.

But last night they had one of the best results in Spurs’ history, as they beat the current European champions, Inter Milan (Italy) 3-1, a tremendous victory.

The goals were from van der Vaart (Holland), Crouch (England) and Pavlyuchenko (Russia), but it was a great team performance with outstanding performances from Bale, Modric and Gallas.

Spurs are now top of their group and a win in their next game will see them qualify for the knock-out stage.

Inter Milan 4-3 Spurs


Zanetti scores the first goal in the first minute

Spurs played against the European champions Inter Milan, and even though the final score was 4-3 Spurs were well beaten. Spurs goalkeeper got a red card and they played most of the game with 10 players.

But Spurs did play well, and Bale (Wales) scored all three goals. His first goal was one of the best goals of the season.

Spurs are certainly not finished, and they still have a chance to qualify from their group.