The White Stuff: Time for a rethink over controversial last-man rule

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Football’s last-man-rule continues to cause controversy. Ed White says a new approach and a third card is needed.

The farcical ending at the CNG Stadium on Saturday goes beyond belief.

When football descends into such absurdity, it leaves everyone dumbstruck.

Unfortunately, I was not at the match so I am in no position to question the integrity of any player, club or official.

But following from afar, each update left me bewildered. All I will say, had the match been abandoned it would have been shocking.

The match was billed, and rightly so, as crucial to both clubs’ play-off ambitions. Had its future been left uncertain, and up for boardroom discussion, it could have had terrible implications for both clubs.

While the race for fifth has not been won or lost for either team, surely Town’s momentous unbeaten start to 2014 stands them in the best stead over their rivals.

Credit, in the end, must be given to Boston United for completing the clash, whatever mutterings of ill-play spread round the terrace.

Boston’s early sending off again emphasizes the need to change the current laws concerning the last man defender. Too many teams are being unfairly punished by the rule. Players are heading for their early bath for footballing crimes surely unworthy of their sentence.

There are too many ifs and buts for referees, and too often these decisions are ruining the spectacle of a match. Law 12 reads: “(15) If, in the opinion of the referee, a player who is moving toward his opponent’s goal with an obvious opportunity to score a goal is intentionally impeded by an opponent, through unlawful means, i.e. an offence punishable by a free kick (or a penalty kick), thus denying the attacking player’s team the aforesaid goal-scoring opportunity, the offending player shall be sent off the field of play for serious foul play.”

That law puts a rope round referees’ hands, especially as referees are now increasingly assessed. With only 11 players, losing one is too great a punishment.

Supporters are paying good money to watch the game as an equal battle. They do not want to see an attack v defence training session or one team struggling to find all ways to break down a ten-man wall of defiance.

The matter heightens when teams are conceding a penalty. Goalscoring opportunities are being gifted back from the spot, so why should a team receive double punishment?

There were two instances on consecutive days last week when the rule came to a head in the Champions League. Martín Demichelis (Manchester City) and Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal) were both given marching orders, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively handed the opportunity to add further insult from the spot.

It is an issue that has been discussed at large by leading figures in the game.

I’m not convinced by Michel Platini’s calls for sin-binning but I have long felt the need for a third card.

There are too many decisions in the grey area, between a yellow-card reprieve and being shown from the field.

Yes, the idea goes against the tradition of the game.

But, if figured correctly, it would work to ensure matches stay 11-a-side unless intolerable behaviour struck.

It’s what football, and its fans, deserves.

What do you think? Send your thoughts via email to

Tweets of the week:

Craig MacGillivray


Probably the most bizarre game I have ever played in but 3 pts and a clean sheet is all that matters! #promopush #uptown

Jordan Ford


Na na na na na na na, Town are goin up, goin up, Town are goin up!

Josh Richardson


If anyone is a club on this rise at the moment it is definitely Harrogate Town #weareharrogate #weretheyellowblackarmy

Duncan Browne


Galinski hobbled out of the ground in pain! McGhee wasn’t moving well and Steer was on crutches! Hardly gamesmanship?

Jonathan Tattersall


Words can’t describe that win vs India! Unbelievable, best feeling ever, great fight from every player! Duckett, Jones, Sayer, Clarke #class

Jonathan Maloney


Another great session tonight, fantastic application from everyone. Mom was definitely @EdWhite2507. Another great wod as well #tinman