In praise of The Touchline Ban, a punishment that requires us to pretend the phone doesn’t exist

Date published: Sunday 2nd October 2022 8:44 - Dave Tickner

Leeds boss Jesse Marsch receiving a red card

The touchline ban is a pretty funny punishment, a largely symbolic one that asks us all to pretend modern technology hasn’t happened.

 

Leeds have been dealt the harshest of all blows a club can receive ahead of Sunday’s clash with Aston Villa.

Manager Jesse Marsch must serve what we’re surprised isn’t more widely known as The Dreaded Touchline Ban. It all comes after his outburst against Brentford when he thought Leeds should have had a penalty and got all cross about it. Or maybe he was cross Brentford did get a penalty. We can’t really remember. It was absolutely ages since that game, which is somehow the last one Leeds played.

Anyway, that doesn’t matter. The point is that Marsch was EJECTED from that game, and is now BANNED from this one.

Except… he isn’t really, is he? We absolutely love the touchline ban because we would argue that it is the most ineffective punishment meted out in all of sport.

What’s great about the touchline ban is that it’s a punishment whose effectiveness relies on a rather endearing and collective suspending of disbelief in which we pretend that telecommunication advances in the last 50 years haven’t happened.

The touchline ban is, almost, precisely what it says. While we could pedantically argue that it should really be called a technical area ban it is absolutely no more than that. It is not a stadium ban or even a dressing-room ban.

Those inspiring American football style rousing half-time speeches Marsch no doubt loves to give (because he is American, you see) are still allowed. He can still pick the team. He can still issue instructions directly to his players before the game. And, because of this little-known invention called the “telephone”, he will be able to issue real-time instructions to those members of his coaching staff still allowed inside the hallowed technical area.

What Marsch is forced to do is to watch the game from either the directors’ box or gantry. Harrowingly, his punishment means he will be forced to have a better view of the game than he would normally get.

As long as the phone signal in West Yorkshire holds out, he should be fine.

Now obviously none of this is new information, and Marsch is a long way from being the first manager to suffer these indignities, but surely the time has come to stop pretending this punishment is actually worth bothering with?

When a manager is sent to the stands during a game, we can see how that might inconvenience a team. It is unexpected chaos, and footballers generally don’t care for change from the established routine. Lines of communication have to be quickly established and it is not always even immediately clear precisely to where the expelled manager should depart. Remember Arsene Wenger at Old Trafford? Yeah, you remember Arsene Wenger at Old Trafford.

Arsene Wenger gestures from the the Old Trafford stands after being sent from the touchline during a Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal

But even without the extraordinarily long lead time Leeds have had to prepare for this one, it’s just hard to believe a subsequent touchline ban really has that much effect once you have a bit of time to prepare the specifics. We’re also going to go right ahead here and guess that a touchline ban’s minimal impact is even further reduced if, as in this case, you serve it for a home game where you already know the lay of the land anyway and where best to position yourself outside the forbidden technical area.

The question, though, is whether there’s a better way of doing things? A full stadium ban somehow feels both wildly draconian yet also not that effective in an age when we’ve discovered that actually quite a lot of us can work from home.

The fact managers can sometimes even be sent off without getting a subsequent touchline ban is interesting. Is it because touchline bans are seen as a harsh punishment or just a quite daft one?

It can’t be the former, surely. The best example this season, of course, came when the glorious Tuchel-Conte Handshake Row resulted in a touchline ban for Tuchel, but not for Conte. This inflammatory banter deployment of the touchline ban feels like very correct use of it.

If we accept as we surely must that it is mainly a symbolic punishment, then make that symbol as powerful as possible.

Because there really isn’t much that a manager can do on the touchline that an assistant in constant communication with that manager can’t do just as well. Right up to and including getting themselves sent off.

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