Positive - Halstead’s Mark McLean Picture: Roger Cuthbert LRPS


A MAJOR but little-heralded innovation could be having a major effect on grassroots football.

The frequently mooted introduction of a ‘sin bin’ for offenders became reality at lower league level last season and referees and players are already saying it has changed the way they think and act.

In addition to cautions and sendings-off, referees now have an added weapon in their armoury, allowing them to send players off the field for ten minutes if they deem them guilty of dissent.

The new rule, technically known as temporary dismissal, was trialled in the two previous seasons and became a permanent fixture in the past season for leagues at step five in the FA pyramid - that is Eastern Counties League premier division or Essex Senior League - and below.

After the trial period, the Football Association announced there had been a 38 per cent reduction in dissent (the player still receives a yellow card) and that in a survey 72 per cent of players and 84 per cent of referees wanted the system to continue.

A local referee who qualified ten years ago – all referees asked to remain anonymous - said: “I think it’s been very helpful.

"It’s had an obvious and clear effect on the game.

"It’s a very effective way of dealing with the problem.”

The problem he refers to is the growing amount of dissent at the lower levels of the game.

It has, says a referees' society official, driven a number of referees out of the game.

The number of referees who give up only a short while after taking up the whistle has been growing steadily over the years, almost certainly, he says, as a result of the amount of verbal abuse they are suffering.

“Anything that will make it easy for them and encourage others to take it up is to be welcomed.”

The referee quoted above feels it has had a marked effect, not just on players but also on managers.

“I’ve seen managers go over and read the riot act to a player who’s just been put in the sin bin.

"And I know a lot of them are now warning their players before matches to keep their mouths shut and avoid the ten-minute ban.

“Most players seem to have taken that on board.

"They know that if they are off the field for ten minutes it could have a detrimental effect on their teammates.

“I’ve also seen other players step in to stop one of their teammates going over the top.”

Referee B, who qualified in 2006, also welcomed the new rule.

He said: “Mindsets have changed. It’s much more of a deterrent.

“I’ve had much less dissent this year than in the past.”

He said it had been a bit strange at first but “the more I used it the easier it became, a bit like riding a bike.”

He felt that players at local level often took their cue from the Premier League where dissent seemed to be more tolerated.

“Being able to put them off the field for ten minutes is a really good tool.”

Players who had been sent to the sin bin had reacted in the right way, he said.

Two had apologised to him afterwards and one came up to shake his hand the next time he refereed him.

One manager who sees the change in a positive light is Mark McLean, at Halstead Town.

He said: “If it’s used properly, it should work.

"It gives players time to think and calm down.

"And it gives managers a chance to have a word with them.”

He stressed that discipline was something he had emphasised when he took over the club.

He was pleased that his players had greatly improved their disciplinary record since he took over and that had meant that it had not been used as much as it might have been.

But in the one match it had been used, it had had a dramatic effect.

“It was a local derby with Coggeshall, getting a bit feisty and I had two players sent to the sin bin.

"We lost 2-0 and both goals came while the players were off the field.

"So we were left with a mountain to climb.

"We came away knowing that those decisions had affected us, so I hope they learned the lesson.”

However, not everyone sees the move as a positive one.

An observer, as assessors are now known, based in the Colchester area, said: “I’m not sure referees are using it as much as they should.

“In the past where they might have given a yellow card, now they are more reluctant to do so because they know the consequences might be greater and that it could be detrimental to them.

“They know teams are more likely to blame them if, for instance, they concede a goal while the player is off the pitch and they’re always likely to ask themselves if they could have handled it better, nipped it in the bud, as it were.

“I think the FA were hoping that it would lead to team captains and managers being more proactive and drumming it into players before games what the consequences of dissent might be.

"I’m not yet sure that’s happening, at least not as much as they’d hoped.”

Harwich and Parkeston chairman Tony Armstrong was unhappy with the interpretation of the rule.

“Different referees have different interpretations,” he said.

"One referee will send a player to the sin bin for something that another referee wouldn’t.

"It has to be the same for all referees.

"That’s something that needs to be worked on.

“I think it may turn out to be good for the game but it needs time.

"I think there have been too many changes in the rules over the last few years, with new interpretations of handball, offside and so on.

“Football’s been going for well over 100 years but now there seems to be something new every year.

"I think they should stop messing around with it.

"Constantly meddling is not good for the game.”

He may have a point about the constant meddling, but anything that makes life easier for a referee surely has to be encouraged.