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Proposals for better refereeing in football – Part 2

by Walter Broeckx

As in the earlier article which you can read here we will continue with analysing some proposals to improve refereeing and football in general.

As these proposals were made in the comment section in an earlier article I have taken the liberty to give my opinion on them. The proposal itself is written like this and the explanation is written like this. My thoughts on them are in the traditional publishing style.

3) A study of the 2010-11 Premiership season found that the actual playing time was between 40 and 70 minutes ( not, of course, 90 minutes. 74% of the matches actually saw effective play in the 50-59 minute range. I would propose a 70 minute clock that was stopped for every stoppage in play thus taking the referee out of the equation. There would be NO TV timeouts.

I think this is a good idea to stop the idiotic time wasting. We all know that it isn’t punished in the real sense.  At worst you sometimes see giving a yellow card. But that is rather rare.  Off the top of my head I can only remember one keeper being given a yellow card for time wasting. Oh and Szczesny got one in a match when we were in front. But all the other home games in the Emirates you see keepers wasting time from the first minutes of the game without punishment.

This would also stop the time wasting when substitutions are made. Because as the time is stopped anyhow (the ball has to be out of play to bring on a sub) the player going off pretending not to know he is the one that should go off, then walking as slowly as can first to half the team to shake hands, go to the ref who is further away from the side line than he is to shake hands, the removing whatever he can like tape from his socks, pretending to jog for about 1meter and a half to then go back to slow walking. It would be meaningless.

So stopping the clock when the ball goes out would make it meaningless to waste time. To do this you will need a time official of course. There are however other sports who use this and maybe we could ask them for time referees to start with.  In a way this could be given as a job for refs who are too old to do the matches.

As for it not being possible for all teams to use this there are two options. We make it mandatory for each team in all football leagues to appoint a time keeper in a match. If there is a team that has no time keeper, they should not complain. But in case both teams having a time keeper they will have to do it together.  Or we agree that football in the professional game is being played on 70 minutes match time and the other non professional matches will be played on 90 minutes as we have it now.

That is just a decision that has to made at some point. By the way I can imagine lots of former referees who now have to stop refereeing would love to be able to stay in the game as time keeper.

4) Add a sin bin. It could be the equivalent of a yellow or for continued small infractions. It could be for 5 or 10 minutes (like in rugby).

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As I don’t know the rules of rugby I must confess that I didn’t know that there was a sin bin in rugby. My take on this is that putting a player in the sin bin for 5 or 10 minutes could be a good way to stop teams from using foul play. However we might see it being misused by bent refs who can use this to handicap a certain team.   It would give them even greater power over the game they do.

Now a player that has been given a yellow card knows he has to be careful. But a ref can use it to tilt the pitch. And as our numbers have shown that pitches are being tilted most of the time I feel a bit afraid of this.

Another thing that I don’t know is how it would affect the player’s body. Will he get cold and maybe get injured when he returns? Because if we assume that there is a time clock  (see above) it might well be the case that the player will have to stay out of the game for 10 minutes or 15 minutes depending on other possible stoppages that might occur.

I don’t know if in rugby they have studied the effect on injuries. I’m not against it completely as it would affect the fouling players and their team immediately and would give a direct benefit to the team that is trying to play proper football.  Now yellow or red cards affect the outcome of later matches and the team that has been fouled doesn’t benefit from that. In fact they might even suffer from it!

So might be a good idea but the implementation would take lots of thinking and consideration.

5) Immediate foul for approaching a referee (except for a team captain)

The problem with this proposition is that I think in 95% of the time a player is approaching the referee it is after the referee has called a foul. So play has stopped anyway and has to be restarted with a free kick. which is most of the time against the team whose players are approaching the ref. So you cannot give two free kicks at the same time.

Maybe a sin bin (idea 4) could be more useful to prevent this? Each player moving towards the ref to protest or to ask for a card being given a 5 minutes on the sin bin would stop approaching the ref immediately. Or it would not stop them at first, but if we take the case of the Flamini red card where I think some four Southampton players approached the ref in order to persuade him to give a red card we can be fairly certain that such scenes would not be seen an more.  I don’t think a manager would be pleased that in order to get a red card to an opponent 4 (or more) of his players being put on the sin bin for 5 minutes and thus turning the possible advantage upside down.

It would put less pressure on the refs and would give them a bit more time to think about the possible extra punishment they are going to give to a player. Yellow card or not? Red card or not? How can a ref think in a good way when 4 or 5 player surround him and shout at him what to do?

So I like the idea but I think a sin bin would be better to deal with such things.

6) Add team fouls as a way to keep the game clean. A team should be punished for continually fouling another team. A recent study ( ) showed teams fouling on average about 12 times per match so that could be the threshold (but the number could be tinkered with in amateur football or semi pro football…say the the Conference North and South perhaps). In essence, if a team went beyond what was accepted or the norm in the league (fouls are called more in other leagues – close to 18 per match) they should be punished.

Now here is a thought. I know it kind of exists in basketball I think. Or maybe has existed. Isn’t it a rule that after x fouls you get an automatic free throw(s?) when that team commits another foul.  Now of course we could not give a penalty for each foul as penalties are only meant to be given for fouls in the penalty area.

But maybe we should reverse it. And give bonus points for teams that behave properly.  An example of this could be taken from the match between Southampton and Arsenal. As the final score was 2-2 each team gets one point. But as Arsenal made only around 4 fouls and Southampton made 16 fouls or so it would give the fair play point to Arsenal.

As you will understand this would make it so that in each match 4 points can be won. League tables could even use it separately. They could use the 3 points system and use the fair play points as a way to order teams with the same points. If for instance teams would be level on points, it will be the fair play points that will decide who is first. And if this would be the same it would be the goal difference as a third possible way to decide the outcome of a league.

Or they could just put the points all together and that way fair teams will be rewarded more in general than teams who go out to kick opponents.  And even when a kicking team wins the match it would only give them a 2 point advantage over the team playing it fair. As the kicking team might get 3 points from the final score but the fair team will still get one point from committing less fouls.

Needless to say I like the idea a lot.

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15 comments to Proposals for better refereeing in football – Part 2

  • para

    Number 6 seems a good/brilliant solution to me.

  • Mick

    Walter, I have been an advocate of a sin bin for years. It could also be used as a ‘holding’ bin whilst a decision was reviewed. If we ever get video technology a player could be held in the sin bin whilst play continued and the offence was being reviewed by the video ref. If the video ref found the offence proved the red card would be upheld but if the video ref considered the offence not worthy of a red then the player could be invited back onto the pitch.

  • Valentin

    Talking about a completely different subject FFP.
    Very funny to see Chelsea complaining about Manchester City financial cheating.

    My points would be

    + 1 referee per half
    + Use TV replay by the current fourth referee
    + allow team to Contest 2 referee decisions per game a la Hawk in tennis
    + put a chip in the ball so goal can be automatically detected
    + Use technology. Every professional team use GPS and/or position radio controller. So make it mandatory during game. Offside can then be detected in real time.
    + Use Sin bin for yellow card
    + Grade every foul on a precise scale so referee personal way of referee can be erased.
    + use a time keeper
    + punish deliberate, cynical fouls by a penalty irrespective of where the foul took place.
    + apply the law. Repeated infringements should result in a card. If continue then a red. Even if the infringements are small.

  • Gord

    Back in one of those earlier threads I put in a table, but nominally the time in the sin bin is a non-constant function of how much time is left.

    In the context of rotationally fouling someone like Wilshere, it is probably true that the first whack is likely the strongest of them all. If that first whack (early in the game) results in a trip to the sin bin, that person should be in there for a long time (I was guessing 9 minutes if it happened in the first 18 minutes of the game). Sin bin time late in the game could decrease down to 2 or 3 minutes, but nothing less than that.



    Your GPS idea won’t work. It’s a good idea though.

    GPS doesn’t record the position of the athlete, it records the position of the antenna (and for these circumstances I am assuming DGPS is in effect, so positions are probably to a couple of cm).

    If we have a defender looking to “get out”, he is leaning towards the opposition goal. If we have an attacker looking to take advantage, he is leaning toward the goal of the defender.

    Is offside called on the basis of where the “leading” point of the foot is, leading being defined by the lean of the player, and for essentially no lean, is the toe of an attacker and is the heel of a defender, where their center of mass is, similar to the first situation but leading body part, or something else? Since GPS is measuring where the antenna is, is there a specified place to put the antenna?

    I could make it more complicated, it is already too complicated. Back when I was running line (which is a long time ago), this was something I tried to bring up in training, but time didn’t allow for it.

    Are people with big feet, big noses, long hair at risk for being offside more than “compact” people?

  • Gord

    Off topic to the list of ideas Walter put up here, but still on topic, that being where body parts are.

    In the context of offside, I would ignore the position of an athlete’s arm (elbow, hand), as it is irrelevant to play in the context of offside.

    But there are situations where an attacker has their arm/elbow/hand in some position where it may become part of play. And good old 24 fps video used for TV feeds just can’t tell what happened. The first instance is that little rat from Argentina with his “Hand of God”. And I think Thierry Henry annoyed the Irish with some handplay more recently.

    Attackers are supposed to do whatever they can to score. Even cheat (note Ashley Young from ManU was just banned for 6 months of driving, not diving). Walter has often spoken of situations where defenders are being fouled should be an automatic free kick.

    I think it is probably reasonable that if an attacker’s arm/elbow/hand is in an un-natural position with respect running along their desired path, and as a result of this a goal is scored directly or maybe once (twice?) removed (assist), the referee should be allowed to disallow the goal.

    Going back to the “Hand of God” incident, there is no reason for a player to have their hand up there in pursuing a ball in that area, except to intentionally illegally direct the ball into the net.

  • Mark

    Sin Bin – I have wondered if a game dismissal that does not carry over to the next game might also be more fair. Sometimes a player gets a yellow card early in a game for nothing and then gets a second late and is off. But it seems unfair that he is also out for the next game, when there are others on the pitch who could have been shown two yellows. I think a sin bin of 10 minutes is to long and would give refs new ways to manipulate the game. I think it ought to be only 2 minutes for first infraction.

    Time keeping ought to be the job of someone off the field so the ref on the field does not have to think about that.

    More and more teams use tactical fouling as part of their defense. So some kind of foul tally with a reward to the team getting fouled. What about a shot on goal from the edge of the penalty box? Or a one on one with the keeper from the top of the penalty box like the MLS used to do?

  • Florian

    Re point 3: There is no doubt that pausing the clock would go against the time-wasters, but the issue is more complex than that. Imagine a team that is nearing the end of its physical resources towards the end of a match would start dragging its feet while the clock is stopped, resulting in increasingly longer interruptions. That would still be technically time-wasting, as it still gives an advantage to the weaker team, and affects the other, fitter team’s flow. It’s probably a secondary aspect, but still worth considering. There might be a need to time the interruptions, and anything that goes over a certain limit is automatically penalized with losing possession of the ball (reverse throw, corner kick instead of goal kick, etc), and yellow card if the issue persists. Just a thought.

  • Valentin

    You could install one controller per foot and one on the torso. That would give you a complete position of the body.
    That pretty much what happen when players and actors are scanned for games. Gollum reinvented live.

    Also with the advent of technology, most camera could be upgraded to take more frames per second. CANAL+, the French and Spanish broadcaster has super slow motion replay which means that they record at more than 24 frames per seconds.

    If every attempt of time wasting was punished by a sin bin. Team would then be more at risk of conceding. You could also limit the break time. The same in tennis a player has a time limit to serve. In rugby a penalty must be kicked within 90 seconds.

  • jambug

    Time wasting.

    Couldn’t be simpler to sort.

    If a keeper holds the ball too long. A substitution is artificially prolonged. A ball is kicked away. Whatever is done to waste time, all the ref has to do is overtly indicate to the 4th official to add One, two, however many minutes he deems necessary. No histrionics, no ‘cheep’ yellow card. Just add the time and make sure everyone knows you’ve added the time. It’s not rocket science.

    If a player kicks the ball away and wastes say ’20 seconds’ but then he immediately sees the ref turn to the 4th official and indicate an extra ‘minute’ he wouldn’t do it again.

    Same if the keeper was strolling around the box as if he was waiting for a bus. If the Ref just turned to the 4th official and indicated to add a minute for the ’20 seconds’ his ambling wasted he’d soon stop doing it.

    At the moment the ‘time wasters’ think it works, whilst the opposition are convinced they never get enough time added.

    Just make it overt and obvious that trying to waste time actually gets even more added on and everyone would be happy, and more importantly it would soon stop even happening.

  • jambug,

    You make sense as ever!

    Why give yellow cards for time wasting when it has little to no effect on the match being played and is no justice for the opposition team who are the victims? Also, issuing cards for time wasting has always come across to me like having a colonoscopy for a headache. It is excessive and it doesn’t address the problem as other members of the team just take over from the booked time waster. I like your idea of disproportionate added time. Unfortunately, it makes so much sense so one can safely bet that it will never be adopted.

  • bob mac

    To adopt the basketball timekeeping method in all Football League matches would be very easy and not expensive.

    A visible clock being used with a countdown facility in conjunction with the ‘timekeeper’ would help to stabalise any frustration from players, fans and managers, thus helping to calm the game.

    The game clock could indicate the end of time, and the ref blow his whistle at the first opportunity when the ball is out of play.

    Easy-peasy, probably too difficult for the football authorities un fortunately.

  • bob mac

    Basketball and football have the same underlying patterns, being invasion games.

    There is much football could learn from basketball, if only the games organisers were more open minded.

    In basketball, 5 individual player fouls and you are OFF for the remainder of the game. The offending player can be substituted. This may mean an increase in the number of subs available to each team.

    It does not seem to cause a problem in basketball which like football is extremely high profile in the media and television.

  • Mick

    Regarding time wasting, it seems unfair that the time wasting team when suddenly falling behind with say 10 minutes to go then dash around like blue arsed flies and get the opportunity to redeem the situation in the very time they have wasted. It would be nice if the scoring of the goal signalled the wiping out of their wasted time up to that point.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Using stop time for a ball going out of play, for people walking slowly off the pitch does not fix a technical problem; it is extremely easy to implement, however it removes the choice and discretion from the referee… No more Fergie time.

    As for yellows for time wasting…that can remain an option, it is called unsportsmanlike behaviour.

  • Mike

    I’ve been a great advocate of point 3 for years. It makes total sense.

    On point 6, however, I have serious reservations since one or two teams (most notably to date, Man U) already gain an unfair advantage by being allowed to get away with ‘harder tackles’ or little infringements whilst the rest of us get free-kicks awarded against us for breathing too close to one of their players. Point 6, therefore, only works if referees treat all teams the same in the application of the rules………….which UA has already proven unequivocally, to be far from the case.