Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Sorry for the cheesy 90s pop song reference. Dating myself but hey- I am old anyway.

The distribution rates of red cards by league is not exactly stuff to bring up during guy’s night at the bar (pub). Why do I actually care about this?

This is truly useless data. This falls into the category of trivia that nobody will EVER get to use.

Yet the data shows a specific anomaly that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

First, methodology. I was able to grab data of the 50 most disciplined players per league for the last two years. So before everyone gets up in arms about the fact that this is not a truly comprehensive look at discipline per league- you are right….but still 50 per league isn’t bad. I grabbed the leagues I could. I know there were requests for the Mozambique Sunday League and for the English League 2 but:

  • I only had so much time;
  • ESPN only had so much data.

If you find me the data for the Mozambique Sunday League I will be happy to include it.

Enough. Here is the data. I even was able to dress this graphic up a bit (I know you are impressed).

Red Cards by League
Red Cards per Player by League

So if it didn’t hit you over the head with a hammer- let me be clear. The Primera League in Argentina had more than 30% more red cards distributed per player than any of the other leagues studied.

That is a pretty dramatic difference.

So the question becomes…why?

My first reaction was to blame the Argentine players (no I am not xenophobic and one of the best soccer matches I have ever watched live was at La Bombanera).

However the data certainly begged the question. So I ran an analysis of discipline by nationality rather than by league. Guess what? Argentines fall in the BOTTOM THIRD of discipline across all of the leagues studied. So if the Laws of the Game are applied consistently across all leagues that means it isn’t in the Argentine national upbringing/character to foul.

Discipline by Nationality
Discipline by Nationality

Therefore I can only assume that the refereeing in Argentina skews towards a higher distribution of red cards. Am I right to think that? Can you think of other reasons why?

10 feet

The eyes are the most effective instrument a referee can leverage when monitoring a match. Yet the eyes can only be directed to focus at any one spot at any given time.

My first “older” match of the 2016 spring season was U-18 elite game in my home town yesterday.

The “Away” team was ragged. They had arrived to the field immediately after completing a game 50 miles away. They were light on subs and anxious to fast forward to the end of the game.

Second half. Home team is up by a goal. Away team’s left back launches into a tirade over a non-call. Center asks him to settle down. Interestingly a parent starts barking at me (AR2) that the player deserves a card for dissent. I calm the parent down.

One minute later the Home team scores again. I whip out my scorecard and dutifully record the time and goal scorer. This takes me a perhaps 20 seconds. While I am finishing, with my head still down and eyes on the scorecard I hear a commotion.

Lift my head (and eyes) up to see the Away team left back charging at me- now only 10 feet away with an enraged look in his eyes AND BEING ACTIVELY RESTRAINED FROM BEHIND BY HIS TEAMMATE. The left back yells “you better start doing your f*@#$ing job.


Flag goes up and I shake it. Center is writing things down on his scorecard. AR1 mirrors my flag. Center is preparing for kickoff. I call out for the center and start patting my back pocket (the agreed upon symbol for a red card). That got his attention.

Center trots over and I recount what just happened. He asks if I believe it is a red. Let me think about that a second. Hmmm. Dissent? Definitely but that would be a caution (yellow). Abusive language? Check. Red it is.

There were a few interesting lessons for me from this game.

  1. I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off the field (and onto my scorecard) so quickly. I subsequently learned that there is a protocol called TLC for scorekeeping after a goal. TLC stands for Trail-Lead-Center. The first person to write down the details is the T- The Trailing AR. This would be the AR who is farthest from the goal. Then the L- Leading AR (me in this case) would record. Finally the center. Had I let the trailing AR go first I might have been able to watch the field and warn off the Away left back before he got too far into his tirade. Truthfully the center took his eyes off too, which compounded the problem, but regardless if there is one lesson that needs to be taken away from this it is: I should have had my eyes up longer.
  2. When the center gave the left back the red, the game continued as 11 v 11. This is because the left back and self-substituted (informal substitutions here) and was on the bench when the red card was issued. Center ref was spot on with that call.
  3. The process of reporting a red card through the assigning portal was really quite straightforward. Stick to the facts, refer to the laws of the game and you are done.

Did I feel threatened? Yes. That is why, undoubtedly, younger kids would not be officiating (young) adult game. Did the referee act quickly and heed the advice of his AR (me)? Absolutely. For that I am grateful.