13 July ~ There is nothing that annoys football commentators more than seeing players wave an imaginary card after they have been fouled. Jonathan Pearce, Peter Drury and co seized on such displays during the World Cup with weary despair. Some of the things imported into British club football from abroad in recent times are tolerated – over-elaborate stepovers and wearing undershirts displaying messages for God are just about acceptable – but the card mime is beyond the pale.

Indeed, overseas players with British clubs have even been berated by team-mates on the field when they indulged in it, as happened notably with Fabrizio Ravanelli and Mikel Arteta in their first seasons in the Premier League.

Referees are supposed to be clamping down on the wavers via bookings. But the only time that I can recall this happening in the tournament was during Portugal v Brazil when Duda went into the book for demanding that Juan be sent off when he handled a cross destined for an unmarked Ronaldo. Except in that case replays proved him right – Juan ought to have gone.

Of course the card waving is gamesmanship, just like stealing a few yards at a free-kick or claiming a throw-in that you know is for the opposition. But you can see why it developed when teams get away with blatant thuggery as Holland did during the final.

The Dutch players set out to intimidate Spain in the expectation that they wouldn't be punished for it beyond an eventual booking. Partly this was because referees in finals are almost always inclined to go easy on offenders for fear of spoiling the spectacle – indeed it's plausible to think that they may receive instructions along these lines from FIFA. But it was also the case that Marc van Bommel in particular had got away with systematic hacking down of opponents in previous matches without so much as a ticking off.

Even when Howard Webb had flashed his yellow card a few times and made a show of telling the players to calm down, the fouling carried on. The Spanish threw themselves about a bit too but had the game been treated as a regular league encounter it's quite likely that they would have wrapped up a win well before full-time against nine or even eight opponents. If card-waving is going to be characterised as cheating, tactical fouling should be recognised as a much worse blight on the game. Richard Huston

Comments (7)
Comment by bearlion 2010-07-13 14:40:27

For all his shaven headed, get amongst the players, police sergeant hardness, Webb is just a weak bottler, as he showed on Sunday and in the Cup sf. The Dutch fouled so much cos they knew he'd be too scared to make a potentially gamechanging decision. I'm not condoning their behaviour but you can see why they did it.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-07-13 14:50:06

Thankfully an English ref got to the final or else we would have nothing more to moan about in the World Cup after the nation's team bowed out early. As it is we can delight in an English representative at the highest level so we can tare strips off him

Comment by Arthur Nibble 2010-07-13 15:07:23

Our Howard was caught between a rock and a hard place and probably hoped the players would react more cautiously after the first (four or five) yellow cards. Had he sent someone off early on he would have been chastised for ruining the dynamics of the game, though that clogger (every pun intended) Van Bommel should have gone early doors, along with De Jong. I didn't realise the Dutch kit that night was going to be all orange with black belts.

The card wavers should indeed go in the book though, on a different tack, I find it unsatisfying that a show of exuberance like taking off your shirt merits the same punishment as someone cynically scything down an opponent. Mind you, by the end of the game, we probably needed that psychic octopus in the middle, seeing as Howard was (on the whole, justifiably) close to dishing out the cards double-handed.

Comment by el_emka 2010-07-13 18:35:10

From my mostly neutral German point of view, Webb did quite a decent job on Sunday. In my opinion there was only one drastic error throughout the match. This was booking De Jong instead of sending him off the pitch regardless of the time of the match.

His job is not keeping the game dynamic, his job is keeping the game within the limits of the rules. If the players decide to substitute football with karate, then they have to improve their fighting skills in the locker room, game changing decision or not.

And Van Bommel is a matter of his own. He played the final in the same style like he plays Bundesliga games, where he faces the red card quite rarely. I do not understand that either.

So, back to the original topic... Card-waving is a job for the people on the stands, not for those on the pitch. It is simply annoying and often just childish. Nevertheless, there if a need for a seat-of-the-pants reaction of the ref. If there is a good cause for a yellow card, the ref should ignore the card waver. If there is not, the ref should inform the waver, whose decision it is to show cards. If the player does not understand that, well, show him whose decision it is...

Comment by redmondo82 2010-07-13 21:19:30

I agree wholeheartedly with this article. Commentators, almost to a man, seem to believe that the worst thing a player can ever do is "try to get a fellow professional sent off". Clearly this is far worse than driving your studs into the chest of a fellow professional.

On a similar note, they completely overblow how bad it is for a player to spit at another player. Although spitting at someone is quite disgusting, I think, had I being playing in midfield for Spain on Sunday, I'd far rather have been facing Frank Rijkaard and having to avoid the occasional flying greener than wondering which part of my anatomy Mark Van Bommell was about to endanger next with another "tackle".

Comment by Insert witty username 2010-07-16 13:44:38

I don't quite get the "trying to get the their fellow players sent off" concept. For starts it implies assuming the referee is a spineless being with no judgment of his own.

Secondly, if a fellow driver tries to drive you off the road and you report it to the police would you be censored for "trying to get a fellow driver banned"? Couldn't be said that it was his action and not your report which got him (justly) banned?

Thirdly, it sends the message that "getting a fellow player sent off" (by no foul means, I must add, since we're assuming no faking takes place) is more censurable than sending a fellow player to premature retirement by sticking your studs into his knee.

Comment by Otter 2010-07-23 15:54:41

@el_emka above is correct, and I can't grasp why so many writers and commentators seem unable to grasp that the referee isn't there to "protect" stars or avoid "spoiling the spectacle." He is there to enforce the rules.

De Jong spoiled the spectacle. He should have been sent off. Refusing to punish him (and so many other Dutch players) as the rules dictate papered over the huge gulf in footballing quality between the Spanish and the runners-up, and led to extra time when none was needed.

Related articles

Hopes for 2018 ~ part one
Embed from Getty Images // A failed World Cup, underdogs having their day and free drinks during VAR decisions – WSC contributors on what...
Referees’ tolerance of foul play annoyed fans and blighted 1950s matches
Embed from Getty Images // Restrained use of yellow cards by officials meant any caution was headline news but that attitude was not always for...

More... referees