During the build up to last week’s F.A Cup clash between Wimbledon A.F.C. and Liverpool football fans were regaled with tales and images of the famous 1988 final. Wimbledon, the underdogs triumphed over the newly crowned league champions and what could be described as one of Europe’s strongest teams, thanks to a first half Lawrie Sanchez goal.
However, it was not the goal itself which possessed me to write this piece, but rather the tackle by Vinnie Jones on the Liverpoodlian, Steve McMahon (video can be seen here). The tackle itself was not one of beauty or good timing, for that matter, with Jones completely missing the ball and almost cutting McMahon in two. What more caught my interest is the referee’s reaction. Rather than produce a yellow or red for Jones, the referee simply awarded a free.
No doubt in today’s game, the above challenge would have resulted in an immediate dismissal. Moreover, in the present day players can concede a foul and receive a booking for challenges where they clearly win the ball but either weren’t in control of their movement or connected with the player after the winning the ball. With this in mind I want to examine not only the trend in fouls in the Premier League but also that of yellow and red cards. Data has been collected for fouls committed, as well as yellow and red cards. This has been broken down into home and away teams, and ranges from the 2000/2001 to 2014/2015 season (up to game week 21).
Figure 1 examines the fouls committed by home and away teams during the period under consideration.
If less fouling is now occurring in the league, surely there should be less bookings also? Figure 2 and 3 examines yellow and red cards per game, respectively.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasoning behind the downward trend in fouls and the upward trend in bookings (yellow cards) but giving an educated guess, the fear by players of receiving a caution for making a challenge even that of a clean one may have something to do with it.