Premier League players and managers have been warned they face red cards for abusing match officials this season.
Not one player has been sent off in the Premier League for insulting or abusive language towards a match official in the last five seasons, but that could change, unless they quickly accept and adapt.
The Premier League, Football Association and English Football League on Wednesday announced an unnamed initiative seeking to address indiscipline in the game by reinforcing laws.
The grassroots-to-elite initiative is unnamed, but has been a topic of discussions for a year and has support from the Professional Football Association and the League Managers’ Association.
Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore said: “We’re looking to make a step change in the way our participants behave and how they are seen around the world.
“This is about players, about managers, and about referees.
“It starts with applying the laws of the game. There is no law change. The laws of the game allow for this to be managed.”
Crowding around and physical contact with match officials, dissent and technical area conduct are among the areas addressed.
Scudamore, who revealed the Premier League will for the first time meet players at all clubs prior to the season starting, added: “If participant behaviour doesn’t improve, then there will be more yellow and red cards.
“The game has put a huge effort into education, to try to ensure we don’t have this extra spate of yellow and red cards.
“But the game is prepared if we have them, to deal with it. We’ll keep on going and keep on going until the behaviour improves.
“The clubs are committed and we are committed to see this through.”
There is an acceptance that errors will be made and scrutinised, until video replays are made available by football’s lawmakers IFAB to help match officials.
FA chief executive Martin Glenn said: “This behaviour stuff, which is pretty black and white, isn’t acceptable.
“Match officials are part of the game. Mistakes get made, but do not behave in this way, even if they are made.”
Scenes of players, coaches and managers surrounding match officials, including physical contact, yelling abuse and poor conduct in technical areas in elite matches can be copied in age-group football.
Glenn added: “That mimicry factor, the poor behaviour is picked up. We all believe we’ve got a responsibility for promoting the game in its wider sense.”
Incidents which have shown the need for the whole-game approach include Leicester striker Jamie Vardy abusing referee Jonathan Moss in April and the fracas in May’s Chelsea-Tottenham clash at Stamford Bridge.
Scudamore conceded he enjoyed the game which handed Leicester the title, but insisted players running 50 yards to harangue assistant referees had as much of an impact.
He said: “I said it was guilty pleasure for me. I sat there watching it compelled.
“(But) I don’t think the Chelsea-Tottenham game was decisive in that sense.”
Glenn, who made a point of addressing behaviour on his arrival at the FA in 2015, added: “This has been on the agenda for a while. We want passion, we want intensity, but there is a line.”
Contact with match officials can result in a yellow or red card – it is a sending-off offence if it is in an aggressive or confrontational manner.
Match officials will also be told to avoid appearing to be over familiar with players and coaches, by embracing them, for example.
Referees’ chief Mike Riley said officials will be told to retain a professional detachment from players and club staff at all times.
English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey also announced that Championship clubs have agreed to make a contribution to ensure full-time officials operate in the second tier.
He added: “We believe that this initiative, which is essentially us, the football family, demonstrating support for match officials… will help protect and enhance the image of our game.”