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John Terry Deserved a Red Card, but Mark Halsey Could Be Wrong

Willie NandiCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2008

Following the decision by the FA to reverse John Terry's red card, Chelsea fans will be delighted that their skipper will now be able to face Manchester United on Sunday.

According to the referee's report, Terry was sent off for serious foul play. The decision by the FA therefore implies that Terry's foul on Jo does not constitute serious foul play.

When something like this happens, the football community tends to automatically judge whether it was an obvious goal scoring opportunity or not. They wrongfully assume that the referee's decision to give a red or yellow card should be based on that.

In this incident, it was clearly not the case, as the referee's report indicates serious foul play as the reason for the red card. The question here then is, "What constitutes serious foul play?"

According to the Laws of the Game, "A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play."

That full stop is very important. Β 

Additionally, "Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play."

If the second paragraph is to be taken as the ultimate definition of serious foul play, then a player who elbows another player while challenging for a ball in the air cannot be sent off for serious foul play. (Neither for violent conduct. Violent conduct is strictly for fouls committed while not challenging for the ball.)

The first paragraph is the definition of serious foul play. The offences outlined in the second paragraph are also serious foul play, but not necessarily the only offences that constitute such.

A distinction is clearly made between excessive force and brutality, yet it is the absence of brutality or danger that may have swayed the FA's decision.

Referees are expected to handle matches within the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game using their common sense. Therefore, when awarding a foul, it is up to the referee to decide whether excessive force or brutality was involved.

Holding the shirt of a player next to you or tugging at a player when running after him is not excessive force and is often an instinctive reaction from players. Therefore the argument that there will be a lot of red cards at corners and free-kicks if Terry should be sent off is lame.

Shirt-tugging and Rugby tackles are two different offences. A Rugby tackle on a football pitch is excessive force in the eyes of Mark Halsey, and by rescinding his decision the FA will only encourage more of the same.

Another take on this is that Terry was not challenging for the ball.

In that case this is violent conduct as defined in the Laws of the Game, "A player is guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball."

Perhaps Halsey was wrong in sending off Terry for serious foul play. Perhaps he should have sent him off for violent conduct because Terry was clearly playing the man (using excessive force).

Mark Halsey may not have known why to send him off, but instinctively he knew John Terry had to walk.

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