Penryn Athletic Reserves succumbed to a dramatic 3-2 defeat at home to Stithians in their latest Trelawny League match on Tuesday night, with the visitors grabbing an injury-time winner, writes Matt Friday.

But it was when midfielder Marc Blackmore was sent to the ‘Sin Bin’ just before half-time, that eyebrows were raised among the on looking spectators.

The ‘Sin Bin’ or ‘Temporary Dismissal’ rule, best known for its use in rugby, is being piloted in 32 grassroots leagues nationwide this season, including West Cornwall’s Trelawny League.

It allows referees to temporarily send a player off if they are deemed to have shown dissent towards the officials, in an attempt by the FA to improve the match-day experience for all involved.

Match referee Paul Murphy, who is the Referee Appointments Officer for the Cornwall FA, was the man responsible for sending Blackmore to the sidelines, and he explained his decision for doing so.

Murphy said: “He chirped at me after I’d given a free kick to Stithians, something about time wasting. I said ‘be quiet’ and he wasn’t quiet so I said ‘go and have 10 minutes rest then.’”

But did it have a positive effect on the game? Fellow referee Kevin Knowles, who was in also in attendance, thought it did.

He said: “When the lad [Blackmore] came back on, you didn’t hear him. He had 10 minutes out, and he’s come back on and played virtually the whole second half and just got on with his game.”

Murphy added: “From my impression of it tonight it worked well. It calmed things down and it certainly seemed to have an effect on them in the first 10 minutes of the second half. They were very conscious of the fact they were down to 10 men.”

Part of Murphy’s role in this pilot is to help collect feedback from fellow referees about the positives and negatives of the trial.

He said: “I think the best example I’ve heard was somebody was sin binned in the 84th minute and they were winning 2-1, and they lost the game 3-2.

“Everybody said that is probably the best thing that could’ve happened because it told everybody there are consequences of going in that Sin Bin.”

Confusion reigns for all

This is a new scheme which has only been in effect for a few weeks, and the fact that many people are unaware of the new rule has led to confusion both on the pitch and on the sidelines.

Murphy acknowledged this problem, and even admitted that he made a mistake in stopping play to allow Blackmore back on, when he didn’t need to do so.

“I could have sin binned players [in previous matches] but I managed them because that’s what I’ve always done. I’ve got to adjust the way I’m thinking to use this new thing that we’ve got.”

“Some have been using it for things they shouldn’t have been using it for, but it’s a pilot, and the whole point of having a pilot is to make every mistake it’s possible to make so we can think back and say ‘well this worked, this didn’t work.’”

It hasn’t helped matters that some clubs in the league and even some referees chose not to attend any of the sessions put on in the summer designed to aid understanding of the ‘Sin Bin’ rule, which is described by Murphy as the ‘biggest upskilling of referees we’ve ever had’.

There were four Cornwall FA meetings and three FA Webex (video conference) presentations in July and August, but Murphy said some clubs ‘and around half a dozen’ referees failed to attend at least one of them.

Is a Blue Card the solution?

One potential solution that could combat confusion is the use of a blue card, seen in smaller sided games, to distinguish between a normal yellow card offence and a Sin Bin.

“I think by introducing a different colour everybody will know that the Sin Bin is a blue card, and the yellow is for other penal offences that they’ve been called for,” Knowles said.

Murphy added: “If I’ve already cautioned somebody and then I sin binned them, there’s some doubt maybe in the minds of the benches and of course they start saying ‘what’s he doing?’ and the players start saying ‘what’s it for, ref?’

“We’re trying to stop the confusion and stop the people on the sidelines saying ‘what’s going on?’ because that creates more problems for us. So if it was clear what you were doing with a blue card, I think that would be better.”

So what does the future hold for the ‘Sin Bin’?

For now, Murphy believes that the trial is in the best place it can be, for this season at least.

“Let’s see how it goes at grassroots level first because that’s going to be the biggest number of games in terms of the spread of referees. Then let’s see whether we think it’s doable at the next level up,” he said.

“My colleague Richard Pallot, the Governance Manager at the Cornwall FA, is getting together a lot of evidence and then we’ll go back to the FA and say ‘we think this worked, we liked this, we didn’t think this worked’.”

So it may be some time before we start seeing ‘Sin Bins’ in the Premier League, but for now the Trelawny League is playing its own part in the long road towards removing the ugly side of the beautiful game.