FA take ten-yard step ahead in battle to stamp on dissent.
Referees will be given the power to move free-kicks forward under the new rule, which has been successfully used for several years in rugby league and union, and its impact will be reviewed at the end of next season.
It will apply to all Premiership games, as well as FA Cup ties from the first round proper onwards, and it is expected that the Football League will shortly agree to follow suit.
That would mean the rule, which has largely been welcomed by referees, the Professional Footballers' Association and Premier League chairmen, would first come into force in the opening round of next season's Nationwide League matches on August 12.
A feeling has developed within the game that the unedifying sight of players haranguing referees and questioning decisions has become all too regular an occurrence.
The 'ten-yard rule' is therefore designed to help curb the type of problems experienced by referee Andy D'Urso when angry Manchester United players, led by Roy Keane, disputed the award of a penalty to Middlesbrough at Old Trafford in January.
Boro and Chelsea were recently charged by the FA with failing to control their players following similar incidents. From next season, if any player shows dissent, fails to retreat the required distance or kicks the ball away when a direct or indirect free-kick is awarded, he has to be booked and the free-kick is then moved forward by ten yards.
The referee will actually move the ball in the direction of the centre of the goal, rather than parallel to the touch-line, but if that results in the free-kick ending up in the penalty area, it will remain a free-kick and not result in a penalty being awarded.
Direct free-kicks, which could still be defended by a wall, would therefore result for the first time inside the penalty area but these could not be any nearer than six yards to the goal-line.
Referees would, however, not be given the power to continue moving free-kicks forward by ten yards if players carry on showing dissent.
A second consecutive offence would still be punishable by a yellow card, but the ball would not be moved any further forward than the initial ten yards.
The rule has so far only been experimented with on a trial basis in Jersey, the Central Midlands League and the Auto Windscreens Shield. But Premier League spokesman Mike Lee declared: 'The pilot schemes have been judged to be a success in that they helped to cut dissent.
'It was very quickly understood by the players that they faced a double punishment in certain circumstances.
'We do think it will have a positive effect, in particular on cutting down the amount of dissent on the field of play.
'The rule is not being introduced worldwide at this stage, but clearly it does need to be looked at in highly-competitive situations such as the Premiership.'
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has been campaigning for the rule to be introduced for some time, but believes it should be replacing an automatic caution for dissent at free-kicks, rather than being added to the existing punishment.
Taylor said: 'This is something which has worked well in rugby in creating better control on the pitch. It should have the effect of reducing dissent and encroachment at free-kicks.
'It will be easy for players to understand and should not be too hard to implement. Our only concern is that we had hoped it would be introduced as a replacement for players being cautioned.'
Premiership match observer Gerald Ashby, the Worcester-based former FIFA-accredited official, added: 'This is another string to the referee's bow and should assist them.
'Once it is used, I'm convinced that managers, coaches and fellow players will soon make their feelings known to the person doing the shouting.'
Some players may take time to get used to the new rule and the effects will also be felt by non-League clubs who make it through to the first round of the FA Cup - unlike Nationwide League teams, they would not have experienced it before.
However, it was not greatly used during the trial schemes as most players seemed to come to terms with the possible repercussions of their actions.
The FA confirmed that the effect of the introduction of the new rule into the professional game would be monitored closely and that a 'further evaluation' would take place in 12 months' time.
Football League spokesman John Nagle said the rule's introduction into the first, second and third divisions next season was 'very likely' but the 72 clubs needed to be consulted before a final decision.
Several Premiership players are going to have to watch their language with the introduction of the ten-yard rule.
Manchester United duo Roy Keane and David Beckham will have to keep their mouths firmly shut as they regularly question officials' decisions.
Both were involved in United's disgraceful hounding of referee Andy D'Urso after he awarded Middlesbrough a penalty at Old Trafford in January. Keane has been operating on a very short fuse since then and one of his two yellow cards at Newcastle in February was for dissent.
Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira will also have to learn that silence is golden as they regularly have run-ins with officials.
Chelsea duo Frank Leboeuf and Dennis Wise are two more miscreants who do not shirk from letting officials know what they think of them.
Middlesbrough's Paul Ince has also landed himself in trouble through his mouth, as has Paul Gascoigne while England skipper Alan Shearer needs to be careful - such is his fierce competitive spirit that he disputes a lot of decisions that go against him.
Leeds midfielder Lee Bowyer also has a terrible disciplinary record which could result in his team-mates defending free-kicks on their own goal-line.
Sunderland's fiery midfielder Alex Rae should also take note - and his antics at Old Trafford recently could have cost his team several dozen yards under the new ruling.
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Apr 29, 2000|
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