Wrong colour underpants go down badly

It’s not often that youth football matches get in the news, but a recent FA Youth Cup game played at Newport County ground, made not only the national and local newspapers and Welsh and Bristol BBC television but spread around the world courtesy of YouTube. What made the headlines was not something that happened on the pitch but on the touchline. It appears that two young members of Bath football club were wearing the wrong colour of what Law 4 (players equipment) calls undershorts. I have said before in this column that the International FA Board, who set the Laws of the Game, seem to be obsessive about what players wear. This year for instance, they considered two items. The first was the snood, the neck warmer favoured by a number of players like Carlos Tevez. In fact there was no discussion as FIFA said that this garment contravened the Law 4, which says that a player may not wear anything that is dangerous to himself or any other player. This came as a surprise to both the top referees and those lower down the order like myself, who had happily allowed players to wear them. I suppose however, it’s easy to imagine Joe Barton pulling the snood of some opponent, who had upset him, like Gervinho of Arsenal, and strangling him in the process. The other item that was discussed was tights. Not making them compulsory but saying that when they are worn, they must be the same colour as the main colour of the shorts. Even Gareth Bale got caught! The International Board seem determined to ensure that players are colour co-ordinated. In 2007 they decreed that if players wear long sleeved undervests with short sleeve shirts, then their colour must be the same as main colour of the shirt sleeve. But we must go back to 1997, to when the Board introduced the requirement that caused all the fuss at Newport. If players wore thermal undershorts, they decreed, they must be the same colour as the main colour of the shorts. They have since dropped the term ‘thermal’ but what they are referring to are undershorts that are longer than the normal shorts. If they can’t be seen, no one cares what colour they are. The story is that the two young Bath players were asked to change their non-matching undershorts. The lady chairman of their club claimed on television that the referee humiliated the boys by forcing them to strip at the side to the pitch. I doubt if he did any such thing, but merely demanded that they change. I remember refereeing a woman’s match, where one team’s eleventh player turned up two minutes before kick-off. The changing rooms were a hundred yards away and I said I wouldn’t delay kick-off while she went and got changed. ‘No worry ref’, she said and stripped off to her bra and knickers at the pitch side and put on her football kit. Fortunately no one claimed I forced her undress in front of spectators but it shows how easily things could be twisted. The Bath players must have taken a long time to change for in that time, the other team scored two goals. Bath finally lost 6-0, accumulated five red cards, three for abusive language which included a substitute and the manager was also sent from the game. Could it all have been handled differently? Should this law be applied so rigidly in youth football? But of course it was an FA Youth Cup, a game of some standing. The real question is why the referee didn’t spot the offending garments when he carried out the inspection of the players’ equipment which the laws require him to do before the game. This would have saved the players’ embarrassment, the tempers of all involved and kept his name from being maligned around the world.

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