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11 December 2014

Red cards are stupid and spoil the game. Football needs the sin bin

Hunter Davies on football.

By Hunter Davies

Sometimes I hate football, so when this thing happened that I really, really hate, I went downstairs to cool off. My wife was reading a novel, as she does every day of her life.

“It’s happened again,” I said.

“Spare me,” she said.

I went into the garden and got out the lawnmower. It’s one you push, Bosch, only £50, the best thing I bought all year, no more faffing with electric cables. I ran over the grass and in ten minutes had finished. Sunday 30 November, the year of our Lord 2014. Amazing, so late in the year. Hurrah for global warming. I don’t believe in it but I do approve of it, if it turns out to be true.

“I’ll ring Arthur,” I shouted, as I rushed back upstairs.

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Arthur, my father-in-law, has been dead for 20 years. We have been in this house in London for 51 years and every year when he was alive, I used to ring him in Carlisle the moment I’d done the last grass cut of the season. He would always say the same thing. “Oh, aye.” I knew then he was impressed.

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In Carlisle, winters began in August – the “back end” of the year, as Arthur called it. As a boy, I would try to get out of bed and straight into my clothes. If you put your foot on the bare lino, that was it. You could be frozen there till spring.

Back watching the game, Southampton v Man City, my bad temper had gone, thanks to the race with the lawnmower. I’d even forgotten what had upset me. Oh, yes: the red card.

There seem to have been so many this season and every time I shout and swear. The worst red card is in the penalty area, when the offending team not only loses a player but
gives away a penalty, which almost always means losing a goal as well. So the punishment is double.

A red card – that is, a team losing one player – totally ruins the game, whether a penalty is involved or not. The depleted team has to regroup, another player gets taken off and replaced, tactics change. Even when it happens to my team’s advantage and we all cheer, I don’t like it. The contest has collapsed.

I think fans should get their money back. Or one-22nd of our money. We have paid to watch a team of 11 and now there are only ten.

Rugby is a very boring game to watch, though I have found a good way to avoid the most boring bits. At the end of November, I recorded both the England and Wales games. Watching them later, every time there was a scrum, I whizzed on. I got through each game in just 30 minutes.

But rugby does have one excellent feature – the sin bin. An offending player is sent off, but just for ten minutes, and then returns. I do wish football would copy it.

Red cards in football are so often the result of two fairly innocuous yellow cards, for nothing more than kicking the ball away, giving lip to the ref, or taking off a shirt, yet the player has gone and the game is ruined.

Mangala of Man City had been sent off after two yellow cards when I stormed off downstairs, convinced that was it, the game was over. They’d brought on a defensive player and were just going to see out the last 15 minutes, as they were 1-0 up. Boring, boring.

Yes, I know, good teams can cope with a man short, presumably they work on it in training, the ten can raise their game by each giving 10 per cent more to make up for the missing man – but generally it doesn’t work. It nearly did in the Man City-Bayern Munich game on 25 November. The Germans were red-carded early doors and Man City scored from the resulting pen, yet at half-time, the Germans were 2-1 up. In the end, though, the Germans were knackered, having struggled with a man short, and Aguero came to Man City’s rescue. A red card had indeed ruined another game.

I switched on again and could not believe the score. Instead of defending deep, going all negative to protect their lead, Man City had scored another
two goals against Southampton, despite having ten men – winning 3-0. So much for my theory of red cards. I went out into the garden again. Would you believe it? The vine was sprouting green shoots.