June International Tours

Red and Yellow cards




The system of using yellow and red cards by the referee is recent in rugby football, the invention of an Association Football referee Ken Ashton who sat thoughtfully at a traffic light in London.

There are some ideas in rugby football that can be dated, their author noted. Who “invented the game itself is unknown. Oh, there is a plaque in the wall at Rugby School that has the date 1823 and the name of William Webb Ellis but that is much questioned. Who “invented” the H-shaped posts is not known.

But we believe that the four-three quarter system of backs was introduced by an Englishman in Cardiff, FE Hancock and that Jimmy Duncan of Dunedin coined the clumsy name five-eighth. Adrian Stoop of the Harlequins seems to have been the man who separated the halves and developed flyhalf play while Lammie Luyt was the man said to have invented the dive pass. Luyt’s partner in the law firm is said to have developed the 3-4-1 scrum formation and regretted it. Argentinian engineer Francisco Ocampo invented the bajada scrum and changed the nature of hooking and the sort of person who became a hooker. Dan Smith of Kimberley is said to have been the first to use the dummy pass and Percy Ross Frames of Kimberley the man who introduced the kick by way of penalty. William Atack of Christchurch brought in the use of the whistle from guiding sheepdogs. Don Burgess of Canada tried to bring the kicking tee from gridiron in the early 1950s and developed a model in 1988 which the IRB allowed Canadians to use. And we know the name of the man who thought up the yellow and red cards.

In 1966 the soccer World Cup was on and England played Argentina in a dramatic quarter-final at Wembley. Both the Charlton, Jack and Bobby, were cautioned, not that many noticed. Then the Argentinian captain Antonio Rattin was sent off. He did not know what the referee was going on about and eventually he was escorted from the field.

Sitting at a traffic light Ashton wondered how to improve communication in this regards. He recalled: “As I drove down Kensington High Street, the traffic light turned red. I thought, ‘Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off’.”

He suggested the cards, but change is slow. Ten years later red and yellow cards were used in league matches for a while and then introduced at the 1988 World Cup in Mexico and eventually were introduced in to soccer laws in 1992, by which time Ashton was 77 and no longer a referee. The player shown a yellow card played on. Red went off, yellow stayed on but was noted in case he gathered such offences.

In rugby, too, when cards were first introduced in 1995, the yellow-carded player played on. The first yellow card in an international match was shown to All Black Mark Cooksley, on tour in France. The referee, Irishman Gordon Black, found out afterwards that the card did not yet apply to international matches. But it was soon in use. The first recipient in a Test match was Ben Clarke, playing for England against Ireland at Lansdowne Road. He stamped on his Bath club mate Simon Geoghegan in the 63rd minute and was shown a yellow card, but played on.

Playing on after a yellow card remained law till after the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Then temporary suspension of ten minutes was introduced, signalled by the brandishing of a yellow card.

Rugby had allowed experiment with temporary exclusion in certain countries. South Africa dubbed it the cooler. This was taken from ice hockey which for years and years has had a “penalty box”, which is referred to as the cooler, the box, the gate and the sin bin. Sin bin has caught on in rugby and some other sports though soccer, the fons et origo of the yellow card, still allows offenders to play on.

Sin bin is a slang term and does not appear in the laws of ice hockey. The laws of rugby do include it.

Definition: Sin Bin: The designated area in which a temporarily suspended player must remain for ten minu

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