Red, Yellow… Orange?

I’m back to football for this post.  Sorry if you’re not interested in football (soccer for North American readers) but you have to admit that the game produces some good talking points, irrespective of the action.

What I’d like to suggest is the introduction of a third card for a particular kind of offence.  At present, as you probably know, there is a red card for various offences that can be categorised as violent or dangerous, or for collecting two yellow cards in a match.  The yellow cards are not exactly discretionary, but clearly have a greater element of subjectivity, as they range from late tackles through time-wasting and dissent, on to things like removing a shirt in that most curious form of goal celebrations.

This umbrella of yellow-card offences is a bit too unwieldy, it seems to me.  Of course there is a need for cautions, which is what the yellow card essentially means, but the current system doesn’t overcome the cynicism which players deploy to spoil dangerous attacks by the other side. You even (scandalously) hear TV pundits saying that a defender had no choice but to “take one for the team” as he pulls an opponent back, and recently a Manchester United player was openly criticised for being naive when allowing an opponent to go past him and set up a goal.

I reckon that there is scope here for a card between the current two – orange will do – with a correspondingly mid-range penalty of being sent off for ten minutes.  They do this for a yellow card in rugby union, which adopted the sin-bin from ice hockey.  Since a football match is longer than rugby, maybe the time off should be longer, 15 minutes, perhaps, but that’s a detail.

The important thing is that it would be used to punish and thereby deter the cynical late challenge when a guy would otherwise be running clear, typically in a breakaway run.  Oh, I know my proposal wouldn’t deter such cheating in the last minute of a game, such as the shirt-tug by a Manchester City player yesterday against Arsenal, but I’m not claiming it would solve everything.  What I do feel is that the blatant “I’ll take a yellow here” obstruction, at any point in the game, is not only unfair for opposition and fans, but also cheats the neutral, who is almost by definition watching the game to see some good action, and preferably goals.  Goals are so rare in football that any attempt to reduce the chances must be a bad thing.

And because goals are so rare, penalties will always have a big effect on the result, so the orange card could also be used for players who are seen to dive (that is, to simulate contact inside the penalty area and earn a spot-kick).  At the moment the balance of risk and reward is unfair: the reward for conning the referee is great, while the risk of punishment – if it comes at all – is likely to be a trivial yellow card.  Make that a temporary sending-off and it would be a fairer equation.  Referees can already give a red card for denying an “obvious” goal-scoring opportunity; so it makes perfect sense (does it not?) to introduce a lesser charge for a likely or probable opportunity.

Football is one of the slowest sports to evolve when it comes to accepting new rules, so I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this in the near future.  After all, ask any group of fans about using technology to review key decisions (as they do in cricket, rugby, tennis, etc) and they’ll almost certainly agree that there is scope for this; yet apart from some  isolated experiments such as in the Dutch league we seem to be no nearer doing anything.  But introducing a third card would not involve any technology, or cause any delay in the game.  All it would require would be a recognition – easy to see for any experienced referee – of the deliberate denial of a likely goal-scoring opportunity by means of an “off-the-ball” block, trip or obstruction.  Come on – as one might almost say, “The future’s bright, the future’s….”



How to Lose Customers

Last month I noticed that my mobile phone bill had gone up by about £2.  I don’t have a large bill (almost £16 per month) and of course £2 will not reduce me to penury, but I thought I would check my bill to see what extra charges I’d incurred.  There were definitely no extra calls, my text limit remains untouched at the totally theoretical 5000, so I just hoped that I had not somehow ramped up data usage.

Everything was normal.  I therefore phoned Vodafone (for it is they), and a pleasant-sounding woman checked my account before smiling broadly – I could tell, even over the phone – and giving me the reason.  When I took out the contract (over two years earlier) they had applied a 15% discount to the original cost of £18.50.  Now I was into the last three months of this contract, and eligible for an upgrade – and so the discount had been removed.

It was the “and so” that amazed me.  Why was this a consequence of nearing the end of a contract?  Surely this was a time to be luring customers to stay?   The lady didn’t want to get involved in this. As usually happens in such cases she said she could see my point but could do nothing about it.  Meantime she would hand me over to a colleague…

And the colleague of course turned out to be from the upgrade department, asking me what I would like to do in terms of an upgrade.  Well, the simple answer is, and was, that after such a spectacular piece of corporate meanness I wouldn’t be upgrading with them at all, but would certainly start afresh with another company.

The net result is that I’ll be part of the customer churn.  Oh, and Vodafone will gain £6 over the three months.   As a shareholder I have to say that I am less than entranced with the extra profit, but totally despairing that a company can risk driving people away like that.