Issue One plus one equals, erm, one?

As told by Paul Firth

The lawyer still inside me – I’ve been retired nearly four years now – can’t resist a quick look at Lee Bullock’s suspension. It’s not the rights and wrongs of whether he should have been given his two yellow cards against Hereford – Bullock himself is quoted as saying it was his own fault he was sent off. It’s not even the rights and wrongs of any of his earlier yellow cards, especially that one from Mr Attwell at Morecambe for an innocuous foul on the half-way line, when Mr A didn’t wave his piece of plastic after several more serious offences were committed in more dangerous areas of the pitch.

What gives me pause for lawyerly thought is the received assumption that Bullock will be serving just a one game suspension, despite having been sent off and, in the same game, having been given his fifth yellow card of the season to date. I pause further to wonder whether this ‘received’ assumption might yet be changed by a letter not yet received from the Football Association, perhaps one of the thirty million somewhere in a Royal Mail sorting office. More likely, these days, even the FA have access to e mail and fax machines. So there’s still the possibility of a different length of suspension.

But let me carry on with the one game assumed ban and quote a passage or two from the F A’s own disciplinary procedure. Paragraph 6(a) (i) of that procedure covers five recorded cautions – ‘suspended automatically for a period covering one first team match’. Nice and easy, then.

Although I shall need to come back to paragraph 6(a), let us move quickly on to 6(b), which deals with ‘players sent off under law 12(7)’ – two bookings in the same game, to me and you. The player ‘will be suspended automatically from FTCM commencing forthwith, until such time as his Club’s First Team has completed its next FTCM.’ (FTCM is a first team competitive match)

Now they may look identical provisions, but I assure you they are not. The reason they are not identical is back in paragraph 6(a) again. As far down as 6(a) (viii) the procedure says that ‘Any period of suspension arising from recording cautions will commence on the seventh day following the date of his last offence.’ (It says ‘recording’, but it must mean ‘recorded’. The lawyerly instinct for looking at individual words also survives, I fear.)

So, now let’s put the two pieces together and see what happens. The two-yellows-in-one-game suspension starts ‘immediately’ and the five-bookings suspension doesn’t start for seven days. No problem there, then, since our next game just happens to be seven days after the Hereford game that gave rise to both suspensions.

But just think how it might have been if the fixture list had been only a fraction different. Suppose we’d been playing Port Vale in the JPT during this midweek. If that had been the case, the two-yellows-in-one game suspension, starting immediately after the Hereford game, would have ruled Bullock out of the midweek fixture. But the five-bookings suspension, commencing on the seventh day following the date of his last offence, wouldn’t have kicked in until seven days after Hereford, i.e. at Macclesfield. The fixture list and the FA’s procedural rules would then have combined to ensure that Bullock served a two game suspension.

So, I ask myself, can it be right that the length of suspension is determined by a quirk in the fixture list? Well, to me the obvious answer is ‘No, that can’t be right.’ And that takes me and my judicial mind right back to where I started. I was used to dealing in what legally speaking are called concurrent and consecutive terms. In short, three months and three months concurrent still add up to three months; three months and three months consecutive add up to six months. I would only use concurrent sentences where the offences arose out of the same circumstances. By definition four of Lee Bullock’s cautions arose out of different circumstances in different matches.

Does one ‘first team game’ and ‘one first team game’ add up to one or two? If the answer is ‘It depends whether you have a first team game in less than seven days’, then the rules are pretty poor and, I would say, unjust. I doubt if the answer does depend on that, although I may be being kinder to the F A than they deserve. I believe the rules should mean that one plus one equals two, no matter when your next first team game is due to be played. I doubt if the F A deal in concurrent sentences. And that means that Lee Bullock should miss Macclesfield and Notts County. But the FA are the only people who really know the answer – unless, of course, Lee Bullock knew all along and deliberately got himself that second yellow a few minutes from the end!!

It won’t be long before the FA tell Bradford City either that their own rules are unfair or that Lee Bullock will miss two games. Anyone ready to place their bets now?