Football’s ‘blue card’ concept needs to be put in the bin as it is not the appropriate answer to addressing dissent


I am a football referee and I support the need to address the ongoing problem of dissent in our game.

But I hate the idea of introducing a blue card for football. I just don’t think it is the correct answer.

Before I get onto why, we first need to talk about dissent, because it’s the reason we’re having this discussion.
Many believe that dissent is the biggest problem in football.

I agree. If you spend any time around a local, grassroots football field or watch a match on TV, you’ll see what I mean. As sad as it is to say, it’s deeply ingrained in the beautiful game.

But there’s nothing beautiful about it and it happens during every match, at all ages and levels.

To highlight the impact of dissent, I’ll share an experience I had as a referee coach for local junior referees a couple of years ago.

Part of the coach’s role is to introduce yourself to the referee before the match, emphasise you’re there to help, answer any questions, and wish them well.

On this particular sunny day in Sydney’s northwest, the referee was raring to go and walked out with a smile from ear to ear.

Come full-time, this was a vastly different story. During the match, he experienced dissent from all angles but primarily from the players and the coaches. They were unforgiving and it was painful to watch. He was distraught.

I had to console this 17-year-old boy who was in tears. We sat on the bench for about ten minutes, most of which was taken up by me reiterating that he didn’t deserve it and it wasn’t his fault. After that, he gathered his things and left the ground.

Forget this young person being lost to football for a second, what about his mental health? What about his self-esteem or his self-confidence? Football had failed him that day as it undoubtedly has for so many others.

To date, it’s my worst memory of more than 30 years involved in football.

I share that story because we can never forget that behind the role of the referee is a person. A human being.

Dissent is not OK – and something definitely needs to be done.

Spurs manager Postecoglou’s view on what introducing blue cards would do to the game.

He’s absolutely spot on. ????

— Football Away Days (@FBAwayDays) February 12, 2024

So let’s get onto the matter at hand, blue cards.

For those unaware, the law-making body for football across the world – the International Football Association Board (IFAB) published the following at their recent Annual Business Meeting:

“It was agreed that temporary dismissals (sin bins) for dissent and specific tactical offences should be trialled at higher levels, following their successful implementation in grassroots football.”

Since then, there has been speculation England’s prestigious FA Cup will play host to one such trial, although that’s not confirmed.

At the highest level, a sin bin would result in a player being removed from the field for ten minutes.

So far Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou, amongst others, have publicly said it’s a bad idea for a multitude of reasons.

Referees don’t always see eye to eye with managers, but on this occasion, they’re spot on.

Administrators far and wide will tell you that the sin bin has been successful in reducing the amount of dissent – but I don’t buy it.

They’ll claim that trialling sin bins has shown that fewer players end up in the bin than in the book. Maybe, but there are reasons for that which I’ll get to.

Here’s the crux of the matter: sin bins make the referee’s job harder – and in 2024, that job is hard enough as it is. With the advancement of technology, recording matches – even at the local park – has never been easier.

With that, we now have countless mum and dad Video Assistant Referees (VAR) on the sidelines – and don’t even get me started on a perennial favourite – handball.

???? BLUE cards are set to be trialled in professional football ????

— Mail Sport (@MailSport) February 8, 2024

In my experience as a referee, a coach, and an observer in matches with sin bins, two things stood out.

Firstly, referees were less likely to deal with dissent. Why? Because removing a player from the pitch is significantly more impactful than showing a yellow card. It can change the game.

Therefore, the level of tolerance increased, meaning that ‘low-level’ dissent went unpunished – and the players knew it. Importantly though, the amount of dissent remained the same which, to me, puts us back at square one.

Secondly, it made it harder for referees to be consistent in enforcing a sin bin. The basis of ‘consistency’ that players, coaches, and supporters crave is that the same behaviour is addressed the same way.

That seems straightforward. But what about in a situation where there are multiple dissenting players? Do they want a football match with seven players on each team? No, they don’t. And neither would I.

As extreme as that example may sound, it’s possible. Last year in a single match, I gave eight yellow cards for dissent. It must have been a full moon.

Also, the team with the majority of offenders was losing the match and approaching the end of the season with no fear of relegation or hope of promotion, didn’t seem to care.

If we were playing with blue cards, would I have sent the same eight players to the sin bin? No way.

The gold standard of refereeing is to facilitate an entertaining game and not be the subject of conversation post-match.

If football was to move to blue cards the narrative of poor player behaviour in the above example would ultimately shift to the referee losing control and ruining the game.

And on top of that, dissent will remain. Hey, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it may even increase.

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For many, the love of football comes down to it being easy to watch. So, if we’re striving to make football easier to watch, why would we want to make it harder to referee?

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