Football’s disciplinary system is one of a referee’s most crucial tools when managing players’ in-match behaviour.

It’s a fine line to walk however – be too lenient, giving too few cards, and risk being seen as lacking in authority (Howard Webb’s performance in the 2010 FIFA World Cup grand final being the quintessential example).

Give too many, however, and risk losing control of the match entirely; the cards losing any value they may have as a disciplinary tool.

While most of this A-League season’s refereeing debate has been centred around VAR, it’s still worth dissecting the card-giving habits of the league’s referees.

This first graph details the total number of cards given by each of this season’s A-League referees (with more than five games officiated).

This doesn’t tell us too much of value, aside from who the league’s most-capped referees have been this season.

Examining each active referee’s average card-giving habits this season gives a much clearer picture of each’s proclivity to book players.

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The most striking feature of this is Stephen Lucas’ card-happy nature – giving 0.55 more of a card per match than the next most card-happy referee.

Also interesting to note is that the league’s more experiences referees, such as Peter Green (196 caps), Chris Beath (170 caps), Jarred Gillett (158 caps), and Shaun Evans (89 caps), were all in the bottom half of average cards given per match this season.

There are number of things that could be inferred from this – potentially that more experienced referees are able to control matches using different techniques, without resorting to cards?

It could even be that the rapport they are able to build with players – courtesy of their long tenures in the A-League – gives them an advantage over their less-experienced colleagues.

When examining each referee’s career card-giving record average, this narrative is tentatively supported.

Every referee mentioned above, with the exception of Peter Green, recorded a lower average cards given per-game in the 2018/19 season than their career average.

All mentioned also produced red cards at a near-identical rate.

This could be a product of the number of games each has refereed: maybe one A-League match in every five generally produces an incident worthy of a red card?

Alternatively, it could be a reflection of the more experienced referee’s adjudication style – comparatively inexperienced referees like Alex King and Adam Fielding more reliant on red cards to assert their control over a match.

In answering this article’s central question, Stephen Lucas has by far been this season’s most card-happy referee, followed by Adam Kersey and Jonathan Barreiro.

There’s plenty more insights that can be taken from these datasets though.

Do you think this season’s most card-happy referees are too over-zealous in their approach?

What other insights do you think can be taken from this data?

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

*All data is sourced from Ultimate A-League, and is correct as of April 9, 2019.

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