Players miss games they shouldn't

icon fouling5 May ~ On Easter Saturday Woking skipper Mark Ricketts received a straight red card in his team’s 2-2 draw at Forest Green Rovers. This led to an automatic three-match ban which meant that he missed the last two league games of the season and will miss the first of next season. Simple enough, you might think. Except Woking’s season ended on April 30 with the Surrey Senior Cup final against Metropolitan Police. So Ricketts could complete his suspension by missing this game and thus be available for the start of the Conference in August. Not so, as turned out.

He could not play against Metropolitan Police, but at the same time it was not part of his three-game ban, so he will still be missing on the opening day of next season. The reason Ricketts gave in an interview on Woking FC TV was that the cup final was being played "within the period of his suspension", whatever that means.

I suspect that there may be other non-League players in the same position and the logic of it completely defeats me. I can understand a three-match ban which is confined to games in the Conference and one which comprises the next three official games of the club. What I cannot grasp is a suspension which says that even though a certain game, in this case the cup final, is not part of the ban, you still cannot play in it.

The story also highlights the fact that it is surely time that suspensions were served in the competition in which the yellow or red cards were issued. Here in Italy if you are sent off or receive two yellow cards in the Coppa Italia that is the competition in which you serve your suspension, and not in the league, which has its own disciplinary procedure. As things stand in England now you could help your team to the Cup final without a single booking but receive one that took you over the limit at the end of the league season and you would miss the Cup final. That seems to me grotesquely unfair.

Maybe that was the thinking behind the famous, or infamous, case of Billy Bonds in 1980. Just over two weeks before the Cup final, he and Colin Todd, then of Birmingham, were sent off for fighting in a league game at Upton Park. In those days suspensions did not start immediately, and by the time Bonds’ started he would have missed the final if it had been more than one match. So after an appeal his ban was reduced to one game and he played in the final.

According to the laws of natural justice, it was right. But according to the prevailing disciplinary procedures it stank of a political compromise aimed solely at allowing the West Ham captain to play in the final. Had Wembley not been on the horizon, he would have got at least two games and deservedly so and would surely not have appealed. And had those two games been confined to the league, his participation in the Cup final would have caused no controversy.

Ricketts is an honest journeyman player at a small club and his case is unlikely to come to public notice, but it does illustrate the need for the FA to bring its disciplinary code up to date and in line with those of other governing bodies, international and national. Richard Mason

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