There have been a flurry of red cards at the start of the Premiership season. One in particular caught my eye: Dave Kitson of Reading was sent off after just 37 seconds as a substitute, against Manchester United. By all accounts he deserved the red card and hasn’t decided to appeal. He gets an automatic three game suspension, which means he gets banned for 270 minutes for his 37 seconds of infamy. (“Infamy! Infamy! They all have it in for me!!” Caesar in Carry on Cleo).
Suspension is a disproportionate punishment for such offenses. Suspensions punish entire football clubs, robbing managers of essential players at critical times and depriving supporters of their favourite players.
Red cards can change games, depending on when they occur. A red card in the first five minutes is clearly different to one given in injury time at the end of a game. Some may be ‘awarded’ (what a strange term!) for a mistimed tackle or a rush of blood to the head, or maybe for two minor yellow cards. Yet the punishment is rigid: a three game suspension.
And red cards range from the absolutely deserved to the highly dubious. It seems too crude a mechanism to distinguish between merely incompetent players and the deliberately dangerous ones.
Players do need to be protected from rash or dangerous play, so red cards are an essential part of the game. But referees should only have to decide on the instant an incident happens whether to enforce the rules and send a player off or not. To have that instant decision turn automatically into a three game suspension is asking too much of them.
I’d prefer to see a system where referees send players off, but only a panel of judges, armed with the referee’s report, eye-witness accounts, player’s explanations, and video evidence, should decide on the suspension. That might lessen the foolishness and unfairness.