Among the slightly lesser-known folk arriving in London from every corner of the globe, intent on proudly representing their stateless nations, unrecognised countries, self-declared republics, de facto regions, ethnic groups and indigenous communities at the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup in London, there will be one face that is sure to be recognised by fans of English football. That is the face of former FIFA referee and current Head of Refereeing for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Mark Clattenburg, who is billed to mediate both the tournament’s opening fixture between Ellan Vannin and Cascadia and its grand final.
Boasting some 25 years of officiating experience, no less than 13 of those spent marshalling Premier League matches, and with both the Champions League and European Championship finals of 2016 adorning his extensive CV, Clattenburg will look to bring to the CONIFA World Football Cup an exemplary standard of officiating, if not also a hint of celebrity. That is not all, however. Clattenburg will also bring with him not just two cards but three: the red, the yellow and the green.
Since their invention in the late 1960s and their subsequent successful trial at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico – having been thought up by retired English referee Ken Ashton as he pondered necessary advances in his profession while sat waiting at a set of traffic lights on Kensington Road – the yellow and red cards have remained pertinently unfaithful to the source of their inspiration, in lacking a third colour to complete the trio. That is finally set to change at the 2018 CONIFA Football World Cup.
Conceptualised as a fresh take on the Gaelic Athletic Association’s revolutionary black card – a card bookended by yellow and red cards in severity that enables a recipient’s club to replace them with a substitute – CONIFA’s green card will bring an interesting new dimension to the tournament’s officiating, all the while continuing to promote the positive ethos that runs from top to bottom of the organisation.
“At CONIFA, sportsmanship and fair play are absolute core values and we spent years discussing how we could eradicate the typical bad behaviours on a football pitch seen in nearly every match today — simulating, arguing, shouting names — more effectively than others,” CONIFA General Secretary Sascha Düerkop told These Football Times. “This year, Mark Clattenburg and Paddy Power had the amazing idea of the green card, which comes originally from Gaelic Sports, and after discussing internally with all our refs, we are very pleased to give it a go and see how it helps making the match more fluid and gentleman-like again.
“The idea behind [the green card] is that we believe unsportsmanlike behaviour should be limited and sanctioned,” Düerkop detailed. “If a particular player behaves badly on the pitch, the green card gives the referee the opportunity to sanction him personally without sanctioning the whole team – as they will be able to continue with the full 11 players.”
To quote the tournament’s rules directly, a green card “will be used and shown to a player by the match official for dissent by a player towards a match official, opposition player or management and spectators and simulation of any kind to seek to gain an advantage for the player’s team.”
In addition to affording a green card recipient’s team to replace them immediately with one of any of their unused substitutes, CONIFA rules also dictate that any player receiving a green card will receive no further suspension beyond the initial punishment and will not be excluded from their team’s following fixture. With the game’s best interests at heart, these new measures are intended to ensure contests remain competitive and fair wherever possible.
No doubt, those with wider interests in the world’s game will watch with anticipation to see if the green card provides the intended impact which could see it eventually transcend this summer’s tournament to find more mainstream use elsewhere.
While CONIFA are becoming increasingly accustomed to spearheading change on a social level, the introduction of an entirely new rule within the officiating side of the game could yet see them incite change in a whole new way.
By Will Sharp @shillwarp