Red & Yellow Cards

The showing of the Red or Yellow cards was NECESSITATED after several misunderstandings and comic incidents. These incidents were invariably inmatches where the players and the referee did not have a common language of communication, writes L. R. NATARAJAN, a former FIFA referee.

The 2006 World Cup is here and while most of us would be looking forward to some exciting action on the field of play, we would also most certainly see those moments dreaded by players — when they are shown the Red card.

Most of us are familiar with scenes when offending players are cautioned with the show of a Yellow card or sent off the field by the display of the Red card. The referee temporarily stops play as soon as he sees a foul being committed. Depending on the nature of the foul and whether it has been committed for the first time or not, the referee decides whether a caution would suffice or whether the offending player needs to be sent off the field. Accordingly, the referee pulls out the card of appropriate colour and shows it to the offending player. The player, the spectators and everybody else now know exactly what the referee wants to communicate.

One might wonder why there is all this drama instead of the player being verbally cautioned or ordered to leave the field depending on the nature of infringement. This was indeed the case until 1970. The showing of the Red or Yellow cards was necessitated after several misunderstandings and comic incidents. These incidents were invariably in matches where the players and the referee did not have a common language of communication.

In an official International match between Russia and India, played at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay in 1964, FIFA Referee N. K. Utchil ordered the Russian captain Netto to leave the field for committing a serious foul against India's captain Puran Bahadur. As Netto stood his ground, perhaps feigning incomprehension, Utchil tried his best through a combination of mime and gesture to get him to leave. Finally, in exasperation, the referee just abandoned the game and walked out!

Another incident worth narrating happened in the World Cup final round match between England and Argentina in 1966. The referee, Rudi Kreiltein, ordered the Argentine captain Raltin off the field for an infringement. The referee spoke in German and Raltin, who knew only Spanish, did not leave. The referee had no option but to abandon the game. As luck would have it Ken Aston, the then chairman of the FIFA Referees' Committee, was in the audience, sitting very near the touchline. Before the match could take an ugly turn, Aston rushed in and persuaded Raltin in Spanish to leave the field. In the same match, Jack and Bobby Charlton played for England and both were involved in a similar incident of misunderstanding. Again it was Aston who resolved the issue.

The morning after the match the Charlton brothers, while poring over press reports, were in for a surprise. They learnt from the reports that the German referee had cautioned them both! They contacted the England coach Alf Ramsey to seek a clarification, but even he did not have any clue about the cautioning. He rang up Helmut Kaser, the FIFA General Secretary, who confirmed in the presence of Aston that the referee's report showed that both the Charlton brothers had been cautioned.

Aston was greatly intrigued by the fact that the Charlton brothers were unaware of being cautioned and he was thinking about it while driving home. He had to jam his brakes at a junction when the green traffic light turned to amber and then to red. That was the moment when the concept of the Yellow and Red cards was born. It suddenly struck Aston that these colours had a universal language of communication and when used would have no national or language barriers. As Chairman of the FIFA Referees' Committee, he was able to introduce this concept in the next World Cup in Mexico in 1970. By a strange coincidence, there was not a single player sent off the field in any of the matches of that World Cup.

Since then, of course, many football matches, including those in World Cups, have seen the very effective use of these cards.

The cards not only broke language barriers, but also made the communication public. Thus, the whole stadium and all the 22 players knew what the referee was communicating to the offending player. It was hoped that this might reduce foul play, but, alas, the statistics are quite different.