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Football’s most outdated rule?

Football’s most outdated rule?

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Aston Villa’s Matty Cash was booked for removing his shirt to show support for a Polish teammate in Ukraine. Is it time to rethink one of football’s most outdated rules?

Why are players still getting booked for taking their shirt off? 

Headed away… falls to Cash… oh! A fine finish, from Matty Cash! He’s bang on the money to find the bottom corner…

Sky Sports Football

Last weekend, Aston Villa’s Matty Cash scored the first goal in their 2-0 victory over Brighton. 

As he wheeled away in celebration, he removed his shirt to reveal a message on one he was wearing underneath, which read: “Tomasz Kedziora and family, stay strong bro.”

It was a message in support of his Polish team-mate, who plays for Dynamo Kyiv [DEE-NAMO KEE-EV], and was, at the time, still in the Ukrainian capital as the Russian invasion started.

As Cash put his shirt back on, the referee, John Brooks, gave him a yellow card.

That’s the policy… still. 

FA’s Law 12 states that: ‘A player must be cautioned for removing the shirt or covering the head with the shirt.’

There is a further law in the rulebook that states: ‘Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer’s logo…’ but it’s understood that Cash’s yellow card was not for this reason – and purely because he fell foul of the Law 12, ‘removal of the shirt’ rules.

And it’s not the first time football has found itself in this position.

We talked about the number of tributes that were made to George Floyd by a number of players within the Bundesliga. We saw Weston McKinnie, Jadon Sancho, Hakimi, and Thuram as well. It’s taken a strange development over the last 24 hours, this is what the German FA control committee chairman Anton Nachreiner had to say: “The DFB control body will attend to this issue in the coming days and examine the facts accordingly.”

ESPN FC

Two years ago, English forward Jadon Sancho was one of four players who made anti-racist statements following the murder of George Floyd. Sancho removed his Borussia Dortmund shirt to reveal the words: “Justice for George Floyd”. 

He was also booked.

The German FA control committee panel eventually dropped their investigation, and said: “The panel also intends to maintain this line in the event of renewed anti-racism campaigns to mark the violent death of George Floyd on the coming match days.”

It makes you wonder whether the rules are outdated for the modern game. 

Both the rules around removal of jerseys, and wearing slogans, is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. 

While you could have been punished for ‘excessive celebration’ before 2004, it was only then that the removal of the shirt became an offence punishable by a yellow card. 

Its introduction has never been fully explained. 

Some at the time claimed that it may be offensive to remove your shirt, others thought it was due to sponsor pressures – front of shirt sponsors are most prominent to TV cameras when a player has just scored – and some argued that removal of the shirt was a time wasting tactic, to delay the restart of the game. 

However it was first introduced, football has moved on a great deal in 18 years. 

But this rule remains – or at least, until now.

According to the Daily Mail, from this weekend onwards, Premier League referees have been told to allow players to show support for Ukraine without receiving yellow cards.

It’s a common sense move, and one that is entirely consistent with other gestures on the pitch last weekend.

In times of crisis, you can trust sports to do its bit. And even though football can be tribal, today there was a coming together. Fans and players draped in blue to stand with Ukraine and its people. 

Sky News

West Ham’s players warmed up in shirts with the name and number of their Ukrainian team-mate Andriy Yarmolenko, after he was granted a period of compassionate leave.

Everton’s players each wore the yellow and blue flag, in support of their team-mate Vitaliy Mykolenko. 

Manchester City’s squad wore training tops which bore the Ukrainian national flag with the message: ‘No war’.

Matty Cash, meanwhile, got booked for showing a shirt telling an international teammate to stay strong.

It’s understandable that rules need to be adhered to, and referee John Brooks can justifiably say he was booking Cash for the reason that the removal of a shirt is merely, just another rule, regardless of the message underneath.

He could also argue that it shouldn’t be up to referees to judge what is, and what isn’t, an acceptable message to display..

So we’re left in a position where we have to ask – is it the adherence to these rules that is the problem, or is it the rule itself?

Perhaps the Premier League’s softening in its stance to this rule will see a wider change in the coming months.

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Xavier Greenwood.