If you watched a game in the Spartan League last weekend, you may well have seen a significant new rule being used for the very first time. Sin bins have been introduced across all non-league football below Step 4 in an attempt to reduce dissent. Anyone questioning an official’s decision will no longer be yellow carded, instead they’ll be temporarily dismissed for 10 minutes, leaving their side a man down and their opponents attempting to take full benefit of their temporary numerical advantage.
In principle, it looks to be a bold and positive step from The FA to tackle a significant and stubborn problem in football. It’s not the first initiative to take-on the endemic issue of dissent in the game of course. ‘Fair Play’ tables and ‘Respect Campaigns’ have made little impact if we’re being honest, neither did the season where referees could move a free kick 10 yards up the field if a team argued the decision.
The details of the new sin bin rule, however, could be its undoing. Whilst a ‘sin binning’ doesn’t count as a yellow card, a player who is sin binned twice can’t return to the field, but he can be substituted. That is, unless he has also already been booked, at which point he’s sent off with no replacement.
The confusion doesn’t end there. When it comes to goalkeepers, the rule becomes even more complex. If a keeper is sin binned, an outfield player must go in goal. After he’s served his 10 minute penalty, the goalkeeper must then return to the field as an outfield player (presumably in a change of shirt, shorts and socks) until the ball goes out of play. At which point, everyone changes kit again and he can resume his duties in goal.
It’ll certainly require a period of adjustment for referees, players and fans to get used to the new rules and all their various permutations. They may have to however, as a roll out of this size suggests sin bins are here to stay. Whilst this season they’re only in play further down the pyramid, the FA have often selected leagues to trial the new changes to see if they should be introduced elsewhere.
This season substituted players at all levels will leave the pitch at their nearest point, something that was first tested in the women’s game. In ‘94 ‘kick-ins’ replaced throw-ins in the Diadora League (cue big centre backs pilling forward every time their team won a throw-in anywhere on the pitch). Unsurprisingly on that occasion the law change was quietly dropped. If sin bins do reduce dissent in the lower leagues this season, we’ll almost certainly see them used higher up the ladder in the seasons to come.
Ollie Bayliss returns to BBC Three Counties every Tuesday evening from Tuesday 13th August with his Non-League Show from 6pm. It will also be available to listen again, via the BBC Sounds app.