Red Card Ruination

Arsenal's Szczesny shown red

Arsenal’s Szczesny shown red

By Pat Johnston – English Referee Ken Aston is given credit for the introduction of the card system.  First introduced in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Aston was in desperate need of them eight years earlier in one of the most violent World Cup matches ever, the notorious Battle of Santiago.

It was the final group game between the 1962 hosts, Chile, and Italy. There were already undertones of dislike between the nations due to Italian journalists publicly condemning the host nation’s infrastructure and general condition.  In 1960 Chile was rocked by the strongest tremor ever recorded, the Valdivia Earthquake.  Recovery efforts were not to the Italian’s liking and they publicly ridiculed the Chileans.

The game itself only saw two ejections (both to Italy) but the players’ actions were such that before the game was televised in England, the BBC opened with the following disclaimer, “you are about to witness the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”

There were many ejections between 1962 and 1970 but the issue was that the coaches, supporters and media did not understanding when players were ejected and the reason why.  The catalyst for Aston that opened the door was the epic 1966 quarterfinal between hosts England and Argentina.

German referee Rudolf Kreitlein dismissed Argentine Captain Antonio Rattin late in the first half and he refused to leave not understanding why he was expelled. The crowd being pro English, there was a venomous reaction amongst the stands but the neutrals and media were in shock as to why.  Eventually Rattin did vacate and it was explained later he was ejected for repeated objections and questioning of Kreitlein’s calls.   So due to uncertainty, Aston proposed clarification to FIFA and in 1970 referees added two cards to their kit.

The tackle that sent Man City's Demichelis to showers early.

The tackle that sent Man City’s Demichelis to showers early.

Fast forward to 2014 and the influence of red cards in two Champion’s League clashes.  In the FIFA published Laws of the Game there is a page (my volume is from 2008 but the law has not changed) that exclusively addresses “Denying a goal or goalscoring opportunity” and it reads verbatim:

Referees should consider the following circumstances when deciding whether to send off a player for denying a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity:

  • The distance between the offence and the goal
  • The likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
  • The direction of play
  • The location and number of defenders
  • The offence which denies an opponent an obvious goalscoring opportunity may be an offence that incurs a direct free kick or an indirect free kick.

So by the letter of the law, the sending off of Demichelis and Szczesny are legitmate interpretations.

The point of objection here is the word “legitimate”.  Both games were ruined the moment the players were ejected.  FIFA will be meeting in early March to discuss the state of the game and make necessary adjustments.  The double whammy of a penalty and expulsion must be put in the front of the line and addressed.  I argue in both cases a penalty would have sufficed and would even have accepted a yellow being issued to each culprit.  Neither foul was malicious and worthy of red in the SPIRIT of the game and this is where FIFA, again, needs to reconsider the response of the current enforcers, the referees.

As has been said by commentators and many a writer, the spectacle was ruined with the sending offs.  We all knew why and we understood but the majority of us do not like it.

Mr. Aston, where are you when we need you?

Do you think the referees got in wrong in the recent Champions League matches? What should the law be in regards to handing out red cards in these situations?

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