Club Website editor Dan Pope speaks to FA Disciplinary Manager Mark Ives about the new match-based disciplinary system that has launched this season.
While John Terry or Rio Ferdinand would receive a three match ban if sent off for a mistimed tackle, a player at grassroots level would receive a minimum 35-day suspension for the same offence.
Such perceived injustices are now a thing of the past in adult football, following the introduction this season of a new match-based disciplinary process that brings grassroots football in line with the professional game and the National League System.
When Mark Ives, the FA's Disciplinary Manager, asked of the old system "Is that fair?" the unavoidable answer was that it was not.
“We have a view that people should be treated across the board in the same manner," Ives told Club Website, "whether you commit an offence in Cornwall or Cumberland and whether that offence is committed in the local park on a Sunday morning or in the higher echelons of the game.”
Having introduced match-based suspensions to Steps 5-6 of the National League System in 2006 and Step 7 in 2009, Ives set up a trial of the new system at grassroots level, with seven amateur leagues participating over the last two seasons.
"I went to all seven leagues and asked them, having had a chance to trial it, if they wanted to keep the system or go back to the old system.
Without exception they said 'No, this is a far better system.'"
Following this success, the start of the 2011-12 season has heralded the start of the match-based disciplinary process for all open-age 11-a-side football in England.
Player suspensions will now automatically start 21 days after the offence which led to the suspension and, whilst the size of fines may differ, the playing sanction imposed will be exactly the same for any amateur player as it would be in the professional or semi-pro game.
Players will receive suspensions after receiving 5, 10 or 15 yellow cards by certain points of the season and sending off offences will carry with them standard fixed penalties (see table below).
In a significant change to the old system, any suspensions handed out for footballing matters now apply only to that particular type of football.
For example, if a player is sent off for a serious foul play while playing for his Saturday team, he will miss three games for that team (starting 21 days after the red card) but can continue playing for his Sunday team.
This certainly provides a fairer outcome for players and shows that the FA have been listening to concerns, but Ives firmly believes that "respect works two ways" and the new system demands that referees are afforded the same level of respect.
His message to players is: “We’ll give you a much fairer sanction, provided you don’t turn around and abuse the referee. You may disagree with his decision, but accept it."
To back this up, any player found to abuse a referee after being sent off will receive a further punishment which will, at that point, see the player suspended from all types of football.
“Something that really upset referees is that they felt they were being challenged by being brought to personal hearings," Ives explains.
"Now we’re saying to referees ‘we trust your decision’. Unless there is video evidence to say that it’s wrong, that decision is final so referees will not be dragged unnecessarily to personal hearings.”
This rule change should affect only a relatively small number of people as, of the 54,000 sendings off in England last season, less than 1,200 (2.2%) led to a request for a personal hearing.
So it appears that the new system is fairer, clearer, more consistent and should increase the level of respect to referees. Sounds great. But if it is such a good system, why has it taken the FA until now to implement it?
“Basically because of systems," Ives admits. "Across the country there were 50 different systems operating in 50 different counties.
“We needed to spend a lot of time with the counties bringing all of that together and having one standard system, which we achieved. We managed to bring it in to Steps Five and Six of the National League System. That worked really well and it just snowballed from there.”
The snowball that was the trial at grassroots level was, as we have already heard, a resounding success. So why is new match-based system restricted to adult football, while all disciplinary sanctions in youth (under 18s) football remain time-based?
"In youth football we don’t want to have that right in there because we don’t want to encourage people to go around videoing youth games of seven, eight or nine year olds."
Ives, however, remains upbeat: "There are other implications that we have to consider, but there are also other ways of recognising youth football in this matter.
"We are looking at this year seeing if we can bring youth into the system for the 2012-13 season. I’ve met with a number of youth leagues to seek their opinion and I have asked County Football Associations to go to their leagues so that we can get their feedback.
"But I’m pushing on an open door because I’ve already been inundated by youth leagues saying that they want it."
Review and feedback
The new system in open-age football will remain under review this season and the FA’s Disciplinary Team will consider amendments for next season if required.
“I’m a firm believer that regulations are regulations for 12 months,” says Ives. “If there is need for a change that will improve the game then we get an opportunity through the right channels to change them on a yearly basis.
“I genuinely want feedback from clubs. We have created a new email address so if anybody has any observations or suggestions they should email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I can’t guarantee that everything will be changed – and if you see some of the suggestions you’ll understand why! – but I can guarantee that they will go in front of the relevant committee and they will get a personal response.”
Key points - what the new match-based system means for clubs
- All suspensions start 21 days after the offence - whether for a sending off or build-up of cautions;
- Players are only suspended from the type of football that the sanction came from - e.g. if suspended from Saturday football a player can still play Sunday football;
- Recognised matches to which suspensions apply include all league games, league cups, FA competitions and the Senior County Cup that the team plays in.
Have your say!
What do you think of the FA's new match-based disciplinary procedures? Do you have any concerns over the system? Would you like to see it introduced in youth football?
Please post your thoughts in the comments section below. We'll collate them all and will send them on to Mark Ives and his team, something that Ives says he "would welcome".
So don't delay - tell us what you think!