The Rise in Bookings for Dissent in Professional Football
In recent seasons, there has been a significant increase in the number of bookings for dissent in both men’s and women’s professional football. Officials have taken a stricter approach to player and manager behavior, resulting in an 88% rise in dissent-related bookings compared to last season.
So far this season (2023-24), there have been 1,813 bookings for dissent across various leagues including the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), Women’s Super League (WSL), Women’s Championship, and the National League System. This is a substantial increase from the 966 bookings recorded at the same stage last year.
The Premier League has experienced a particularly drastic surge in dissent-related offenses. The number of bookings has more than tripled from just 24 at this point last season to a staggering 80 so far this campaign.
Interestingly, while there has been an uptick in cautionary measures against dissenting behavior on the field, charges for technical area misconduct have actually decreased. Instances such as surrounding referees or mass confrontations have seen a decline during this period.
This push towards curbing unruly behavior stems from collaborative efforts between various governing bodies within football, including the Football Association (FA), League Managers Association, Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), and participating leagues themselves. At the start of this season, they introduced a ‘participant charter’ aimed at promoting better conduct on and off the pitch by enforcing stricter punishments for acts of dissent and other negative behaviors like time-wasting.
“We were empowered and supported by the game to be more robust with our actions to address declining behavior,” stated Howard Webb, chief refereeing officer at referees’ body PGMOL. “A culture change won’t happen overnight… but we are moving in the right direction and our officials are successfully delivering on our part of the collective football effort to reset behaviors, protect the reputation, and promote the positive image of the game for future generations.”
The impact of this clampdown is evident when considering disciplinary actions taken against Premier League clubs. Last season alone, the FA issued over 20 fines totaling more than £1 million to teams involved in incidents related to surrounding match officials or mass confrontations. However, this season has seen a significant decrease with only two charges recorded so far, compared to 14 at a similar stage last campaign.
Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League, expressed his satisfaction with these changes: “Professional football sets an example… so it is encouraging to see this approach has already had a positive impact on our game.”
EFL chief executive Trevor Birch emphasized that supporting match officials was crucial for maintaining a well-functioning sport: “Without them [match officials], we have no game at all. It is imperative that the game does all it can to support them so they can do their job effectively.”
While overall there has been praise for these efforts towards improving behavior within professional football, criticism did arise initially. Manchester United defender Raphael Varane voiced concerns about players’ opinions not being heard.
In recent months, some notable incidents highlight these changes in action. Brighton defender Lewis Dunk faced a two-match ban after receiving a straight red card for abusing referee Anthony Taylor during a match – becoming the first player since January 2008 to be sent off while on-field for such misconduct.
Arsenal left-back Takehiro Tomiyasu also found himself booked twice during one game; firstly for taking too long over a throw-in against Crystal Palace and later shown another yellow card for fouling an opponent.
Similarly, delays caused by players’ actions have resulted in disciplinary measures. The opening weekend of the Women’s Super League witnessed six yellow cards for causing delays to play, including Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood receiving a second yellow card for taking 26 seconds to restart play with a free-kick.
As football continues to evolve, these efforts to improve player and manager behavior are seen as crucial in setting an example for all levels of the game. By embracing stricter punishments and promoting positive conduct, football aims to foster a better environment both on and off the pitch.
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