Serious foul play
A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.
A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.
Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.
Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play unless there is a clear subsequent opportunity to score a goal. The referee shall send off the player guilty of serious foul play when the ball is next out of play.
A player who is guilty of serious foul play should be sent off and play is restarted with a direct free kick from the position where the offence occurred (see Law 13 – Position of Free Kick) or a penalty kick (if the offence occurred inside the offender’s penalty area).
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. On Saturday, when I saw Karl Henry slide in, from behind, two-footed, and take Rosicky out my first thought was “that’s a red card” but sitting there and listening to the announcers say that it wasn’t a red card and that it was harsh made me wonder if maybe, just maybe I don’t know the rules of the game.
So, I looked them up and the results are quoted above. Now, with those rules in mind, watch this video:
And while we are at it, here’s the video of Henry standing on Theo Walcott’s leg after a challenge from behind — note that the official is looking right at this foul.
I think the rules are pretty clear, “A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.” And, “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.”
So, why is it that when Taylor lunged at Eduardo, used excessive force which resulted in the broken leg and thus clearly endangered the player’s safety, why is it that Steve Bruce (Wigan boss at the time) can say that it wasn’t even a yellow card?
How is it that Ryan Shawcross scythes down Aaron Ramsey with a tackle which again obviously endangers the safety of Ramsey, is obviously excessive (do you need to use a leg breaking lunge to win the ball?) and which had no chance of winning the ball leads Tony Cascarino to say in his column that it’s not even a red card?
How come Mick McCarthy can applaud his player off the pitch and defend him in the press by claiming falsely that he won the ball after the horrible tackle which left Tomas Rosicky with stud marks on his calf and no one in the press calls him out on this? In fact, rather, the lickspittles on Fleet Street publish stories which allow Henry to call Arsenal players cheats, unchallenged and without even mentioning the rules of the game.
And how is it that Howard Webb sees Craig Gardner’s x-rated tackle on Cesc Fabregas, which bruised the bone just below the knee, and ignoring the rules about excessive force (just because you win the ball doesn’t mean you’re always right) and endangering the player and not only doesn’t give a red card, doesn’t even call a foul? Not even a foul?
In fact, in each case the assaulting player is widely defended as “not that kind of guy” and as “not having any malice” or most disgustingly “set to recover” mentally from the fact that they are a leg breaking thug.
In trying to make sense of this behavior I’ve decided that it’s actually a complex phenomena which players, managers, referees, and league officials suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:
Anti-Diving Crusaders: Otherwise rational human beings falsely believe that if a player goes to ground for anything less than an assault, it’s a “dive.” They proclaim loudly that diving is the worst thing to happen to football, that it needs to be “stamped out” (the perfect choice of words), and that diving is ruining the game. They do this with an absolutist religious fervor which clouds their judgment about whether certain teams (read Arsenal this year due to the Daily Mail’s campaign against Eduardo) deserve to get fouls called or whether they are just “diving” or “whinging” as Karl Henry accused today.
Kick them off the pitch Acolytes: Everyone loves an underdog and everyone loves it even more when the underdog does one over on the “big boys.” So when Sam Allardyce hatched his ingenuous plan of re-creating the Crazy Gang and put together a team of brutal thugs who managed to get as high as a Carling Cup final, every victory was applauded and every point relished as if they had won the Champions League. To this day, Allardyce is often reached for comment whenever someone talks about a small team roughing up a big club like Arsenal and to this day the common sense argument about Arsenal is that they “don’t like it up em.” Who does like it up ‘em?
Old-school-ism: Some parts of the rule above are relatively new, well, by relatively I mean “enacted in 1998, 12 years ago” So, for some people, slow people, people for whom simple statements like “the tackle from behind is now a red card” take 12 years to understand this whole crazy notion that a tackle from behind is a straight red card is foreign to them.
Xenophobia: When I hear Wayne Rooney say that English players don’t dive, despite the overwhelming evidence that Wayne Rooney is a serial diver, and the press simply give him a pass I have to wonder if there isn’t some xenophobia at work here… allegedly. We’ll know for sure when some English player breaks Wayne Rooney or James Millner’s legs.
Laziness: Teaching people to play football properly is hard. I mean, you have to dedicate time and energy to teaching the proper technique of how to make a tackle, when to go in, when to pull out, and how much force to use. Moreover, fewer teams would need to use less brutal tactics if they learned how to play actual football instead of simply being told to go get stuck in.
I mean, have you ever watched a Championship game? They are absolutely brutal. If you want to see the worst of English football, go check out a West Ham v. Millwall clash next season. If the tables end up the way they are looking, both teams might be in the Championship at the same time and footballing purists will be in for a real treat, I’m sure. Something that will rival the Arsenal v. Barcelona classic.
Signs are that England recognizes this deficiency and in building the new training facility at Burton have promised to emphasize technique over violence. If Clairefontane is any example this set up will take 10 years to start changing the culture of football in England.
I DIDN’T MEAN IT! This is the worst defense of all and the most prevalent. To hear it told, every player who ever broke another player’s leg (or two) is the sweetest, nicest guy on the planet. But where in the rule above is the mention of intent? Where does it say that the referee should check character references before deciding whether a challenge deserved a red card?
Should Howard Webb use his headphone to call Sir Alex Ferguson and ask if Shawcross is “that type of player” before deciding his punishment? No. I’m sorry, but if you tackled the way that Shawcross did or Taylor did, it’s excessive force and strictly outlawed by rule 12.
The only time intent comes into play is when the FA is deciding if there should be more than a three game ban.
Don’t take this from me, it’s all I’ve got left! I actually think this is the most prevalent reason why there are so many impassioned defenses of these brutal tackles. When a team is up against the wall, when the chips are down, they almost all want to be able to hit back at their opponents with a little physical play. As a result, everyone that I’ve talked to says that they don’t want to make football a non-contact sport and they are worried about losing that physicality.
But the problem isn’t that there’s only simple dualism; either the sport is non-contact or leg breaking isn’t punished. There’s a whole area where contact should be allowed up to a line and when you cross that line, when you use excessive force, endanger safety, tackle from behind, lunge, go in studs up, go in over the ball, or go into a challenge two footed you’ve crossed the line and it’s a red card.
Seems pretty clear to me, unless there are two sets of rules: one for the world and one for England. Did I miss the memo on that?