Football’s Platitude: The Futility of the Yellow Card

Olympique Lyonnais’ twenty-one year old midfielder Maxime Gonalons would have missed the biggest moment in his career, and his club’s history, after a highly controversial booking for a challenge on Bayern Munich’s Mark van Bommel. As incidental as that yellow card transpired to be, after Bayern’s 3-0 triumph, the question remains; was that tackle worthy of missing such a momentous occasion?

The trite, arbitrary issuing of a yellow card has become something hackneyed within the structure of the game, but something which is nevertheless inimical to its spirit. The punishment aspect of the game should be borne out of necessity, not desire to create a spectacle, and this is why bookings should be eradicated.

The yellow card essentially serves as a warning, but has transcended this basic usage and has become central to the pantomime of modern football; used to abate seething fans, desperate for justice, and the accumulation of which leads to suspension. However, this does not have to be the case; surely a simple warning for a player should suffice, so long as it is transparent to the players that they are toeing a fine line. An accumulation of these warnings in a single game could lead to a sending off at the referee’s discretion, but they would not spill over into subsequent matches. This would have several effects; first it would lead to a cessation in footballers ‘playing within themselves’ to avoid suspension for picking up another booking. Second it would stop managers leaving players out for fear of suspension and finally it would end players putting in dangerous ‘head-first’ blocks to evade another booking (Scott Parker against Everton a few weeks ago comes to mind when he was one yellow card away from a two-game suspension). All of which are detrimental to both the standard and enjoyment of the game.

This does not mean there would be more application of the red card, but it would place more emphasis on the reason for the red card. After all, the issuing of a second yellow card, and the subsequent red, is almost as arbitrary as the issuing of the first. The increased emphasis on the red card means no more suspensions for ‘silly yellows’, but suspensions for continued breaching of the rules, and players performing outside the parameters of the game. In essence, if you don’t want to play within the rules of the game, you are punished, i.e.; violent conduct, simulation, two-footed tackles etc, not punished for a couple of mistimed challenges or over-zealously celebrating a goal.

The eradication of the yellow card would also decrease the ‘visibility’  of referees and the likelihood of so-called ‘celebrity refs’. By ‘visibility’ I mean referees would serve their primary function, the smooth officiating of a match, rather than their secondary, and more peripheral, function of punishing players. It is often said the more ‘invisible’ the referee, the better, and the abolition of the yellow card would allow for this. It would also mean there would be fewer contentious decisions and referees would recede from the limelight instead of being salient in the minds of both managers and football writers. An added effect would be that the pressure on referees would decrease and therefore the interest in the job would increase. Something that, with the current shortage of referees at all levels of the game, would be desirable for the FA.

The obsolescing of the yellow card requires not only a superficial, but also a cultural change in football. A turn away from punishment, emanating from both on and off the pitch, a move away from every game’s inevitable booking and commonplace sending off, and a step toward the playing of the game and the flowing of a match. After all, no one really wants to see someone sent off, no one wants to see a game of uneven numbers, or players vilified for more and more tenuous reasons. It is something that has been learnt by the fans and something which has been reinforced through football’s hierarchy. The yellow card is merely a visualisation of creating work where none is needed, a manifestation of the bureaucracy of football. Unnecessary and unwarranted, strangling and stifling, the yellow card emphasises punishment over play and denies players through needless suspensions. It is time for its eradication.

In answer to my earlier question; should Maxime Gonalons have been forced to sit out the Champions League final because of one booking too many? The simple answer is no, but the application of this system would mean a sustained period of structural upheaval, and changing the way we all view the game.

Written By James Atkinson

Article title: Football’s Platitude: The Futility of the Yellow Card

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