After the dramatics of the summer we are now back to normality in football. Apart from England’s early exit I must say I enjoyed the World Cup. It was great to see some of the smaller nations making a breakthrough but a little galling to realise that a country like Costa Rica, with a population smaller than that of London, headed England’s group. Some referees of lesser footballing nations also broke some records. An Australian referee took charge of a second round match for the first time and no American referee had ever previously refereed in the knock out stages of the World cup finals. And how well they did.
However, the thing that I had the most questions about during the tournament was the can of vanishing spray that the referees carried on their belt. To listen to some of the commentators you could be forgiven for thinking it was a completely new innovation whereas it was introduced in South American football in 2008. Regular readers may even remember that was when I first reported it in this column. There is no doubt that with its use at the World Cup it has caught the imagination of football fans. One comedian has even written a song about it called ‘The Magic Spray’. That’s how is seems, because after clearly marking a line for a free kick, within a minute it disappears, I’m told that the foam is a mixture of butane, isobutane and propane gas together with a foaming agent and water. When the gas is sprayed from the can, it depressurises and expands which forms the foam on the pitch. The butane mixture then evaporates, just leaving the water behind. There have been comic aspects. Players getting annoyed when the referee sprays over their fancy boots and John Moss’s episode in the Premier League when he tried to fix a can that didn’t work only to spray himself and the player waiting to take the kick.
The idea of course is to ensure that the defending players in the wall don’t move forward before the kick is taken but the first thing is to mark out where the kick is to be taken from. You might be surprised how many times when as a referee, you are pacing out the ten yards, attackers move the ball forward. The theory is that any defender who steps over the line before the kick is taken will be cautioned and shown the yellow card. This is under Law 12 which says a player who fails to retreat the required distance at a free kick commits a cautionable offence. Surprisingly, the magic spray seems to have the effect of preventing defenders from encroaching but I think that it will only continue to do so if the sanction to enforce it is carried out by referees. Once defaulting players are allowed to get away without a caution then it will become like any other line. Take for instance the eighteen-yard line at a penalty kick, which players cross with impunity.
Also it has to be remembered that it is not only the defenders behind the spray line that have to be at least ten yards from the ball at a free kick. In one World Cup match the players behind the line behaved perfectly correctly but there were two other players a little to one side who never retreated the full ten yards and furthermore charged forward before kick was taken without rebuke from the referee. Recently, a refereeing colleague told me how in his match (without the spray), a player who encroached, told him in all seriousness, ‘I don’t have to be ten yards away if I’m not in the wall.’ Oh yes you do.