Last week in my column I wrote about the four different ways a referee might act over a player pulling the shirt of an opponent.
I finished by saying that there was another occasion when a referee wouldn’t, or perhaps I should say shouldn’t, issue a yellow card for this offence.
I was reminded of this by the editor of this newspaper, a devoted Gillingham fan, who mentioned an incident that he saw in a recent game. After watching the video, I sadly concluded that the referee certainly made one of two connected errors. Let me describe what happened.
Two players were running alongside one another towards the Gillingham half, when the Gillingham player, an ex-Reading Academy player incidentally, pulled the opposing player’s shirt causing him to fall. An obvious holding offence which warranted a direct free kick.
The referee however, must have decided that it also denied a promising attack, for after blowing his whistle, he took the yellow card out from his pocket.
This is where it’s possible he made a mistake. The opposing side immediately took a quick free from which they scored. There is a clause in the Laws of the Game which covers such action. Let me reveal what it says.
“Once the referee has decided to caution or send off a player, play must not be restarted until the sanction has been administered, unless the non-offending team takes a quick free kick and has a clear goal scoring opportunity, and the referee has not started the disciplinary sanction procedure”.
What is open to debate of course is, when does a referee start his disciplinary procedure? In this case I would have thought it was when he took the yellow card out of his pocket, because this diverted his and the Gillingham team’s attention away from what was going on.
The referee didn’t see the quick free kick being taken, and he only realised what had happened when he looked up and saw opposing players heading towards the goal with the ball. which was finally kicked into the Gillingham goal.
By allowing the goal to stand, he then committed what was a definite error by producing a yellow card to the Gillingham offender for the original foul. A new sentence was added to this clause in 2020, covering an offence when a goal is scored after a quick free kick in these circumstances.
I remember it well, having discussed it at the time with the Technical Director of the IFAB. It says, ‘If the offence was interfering with or stopping a promising attack, the player is not cautioned’, which means of course no yellow card.
By Dick Sawdon Smith