When I lived in the United States, I served on our district pool committee. After training and judging, this was my third favorite volunteer challenge. Whenever we, the new members of the committee, proposed any changes, the older servants clutched their heads and moaned, “Serving beer and wine for adults once or twice in the summer during the two-hour window on Saturday.” in the evening? If we do that, it’ll just open up a whole can of worms!”
Football fans tend to be just as conservative when it comes to changing the rules. Since the days of the North American Football League in the 1970s, anyone who proposes legislative ways to improve the game has been accused of wanting to “Americanize” the sport. It is true that the NASL wanted to remove many restrictions in order to tailor football to an American audience in a competitive and already crowded market. However, it is unfair to blame the US when, half a century later, the lower Dutch league is offered as a testing ground. And just because football is already a good sport doesn’t mean it can’t be improved wherever it is played in the world.
Head of Dutch amateur football, Dirk van der Zeeearlier this month put forward a number of changes to make the game, according to him, “faster and more honest”. None of his ideas are necessarily new – stopping the clock when the ball is out of play (2 halves of 30 minutes of “net playing time”); 5-minute penalty boxes instead of yellow cards; strikes instead of throw-ins; the ability to dribble from a free kick; and unlimited substitutions. Van der Zee suggested trying out the changes in one of the lower professional leagues in the Netherlands starting next year.
The Administrator has also correctly indicated that the greatest resistance to any such change will come from FIFA and UEFA, global and European governing bodies. The Dutch federation was also unimpressed and quickly issued a statement clarifying that there would be no experiment and they wanted nothing to do with such radicalism. Why, that would just open a whole can of worms!
However, aside from unlimited submarines (already allowed in many amateur leagues, but certainly not needed at the top of the game when we have five submarines), these ideas deserve at least some serious consideration:
• Two halves of 30 minutes. In my piece about wasting time last month this idea came up again and again in the comments section. The resistance comes simply from the fact that this has never been done before. With the exception, to some extent, of college football and almost every other sport where the clock set off the field not only works, but is absolutely fair. Is college football “Americanized”? No, and you don’t hear the fans leaving the stadium complaining about how much more enjoyable the game would have been if seven minutes of injury time had been added. Try at least. If the lack of injury time causes thousands of fans to refuse to attend, I will be very surprised.
• Five Minute Sin Urns. Or maybe 10 minutes would be better. Because in fact a yellow card does not give a big penalty, unless later it turns yellow-red. True, this could have deterred the dirty player’s fouls. But why not stop the foul on a dirty player and get that dirty player off the field for 10 minutes? (By the way, this season we experimented with the basket of sin in the German amateur leagues where I refereed. Except that the basket of sin is only between a yellow and a red card, so it didn’t make much of a difference in the levels of dissent and foul play. It’s actually a rule in favor of even greater leniency towards a foul-mouthed or foul-mouthed player.)
• Hits instead of throw-ins. Football is a game best played on the ground with your feet. Any coach who has had to teach young players how to take a faceoff and how to control a faceoff would probably love this rule. Kicks develop basic football skills (if the ball had to be thrown on the ground – or, say, no higher than the knee), and they could be performed much faster than throw-ins. Throw-ins encourage long ball play, ugly goals, and wasting time. Please, let’s try. When I’m training, I use it all the time in small training games.
• Dribbling from free kicks. Of all Van der Zee’s proposals, this is the one I’d most like to see in court. The advantage should always be on the fouled team, and the ability for a player to dribble directly from a free kick opens up a lot of attacking opportunities. Let’s add dribbling from corners. And why not from our brand new kick-ins (see above)? Football’s lack of artistry and individual flair has been a problem since the 1950s, and it could be a way to usher in a new era of foot-centric play rather than the aerial swindle that plagues so many touchline tactics.
After an EGM to change our bylaws, I pushed through my proposal for alcohol to be served occasionally at adult social events at our neighborhood pool. No one drowned, no one was arrested. No cans of worms were opened, and there were no slippery slopes to hell and damnation. Encouraging fair play and flair will not kill football. Innovations that would be easy to implement deserve at least discussion and testing.
(Jan PlenderleithThe next book, The Hell of Reffing: Stuck in the Middle of the Wrong Game, will be published in August. and is available for pre-order directly from Halcyon Publishing in the UK..)