Danny Peacock August 20, 2019

Many years before top level Association Football was screened regularly to global television audiences this most basic of ball kicking sports was played between two teams of 11 v 11 with the simple aim to outscore your opponent with the team who scores the most declared the winner of the match. Sport with little rules in its simplest form crammed into two 45 minute half’s and if both teams failed to score or indeed scored the same number of goals as each other we’ll simply call it a draw, shake hands at the end of the match and go on our merry ways.

You could argue not much has changed in 170 years since the first rules were written but in fact a lot has.

Whilst the pitch layout and size has remained relatively the same (roughly 70 yards wide by up to 120 yards ish long) since the turn of the 20th Century the rules have tweaked from a foul being given when a defender deliberately impedes a player to a complexity of issues. In football you could use any part of the body other than the hands unless you are a goalkeeper where you could only handle inside the box, but subtle changes over the years have made this simple ruling into the most confusing law and one that is having a major impact on today’s game.

The ‘latest’ new law from the ever tweaking nerds at IFAB states that if the ball touches an attacking players hand by accident in the lead up to a goal the goal cannot be given… But if a ball touches a defending players hand by accident in the lead up to a goal that’s ok.. play on… So what if a ball hits a defenders hand when going in before deflecting on to an attackers hand en-route to dropping into the net? Goal? No goal? Penalty? No Penalty? Red Card? Play On? Free Kick to the defender? It’s a farce!!!!

What was wrong with simply awarding a foul for a ‘handball’?

Back in the day when a clubman of one of the teams would umpire a game the rules were simple. Use any part of your body bar the hands… They would even allow you to kick who you like until they outlawed tripping, but what has been lost over the years in adding all these minor but irritating tweaks sadly is the ability for referees to referee games with their own discretion. From what used to be the referees say is final is now powered to a computer hundreds of miles from the stadium where several members of a team would make a decision.. And based on what??? That very same discretion???

Discretion is the theory that used to give the referee the power when officiating football matches until Sky Sports provided so many camera angles it became often impossible for a referee to be judged 100% right. Letter of the law and ‘rules are rules’ soon replaced the ability to manage a matchday situation and in destroying the flow of the game so much with it’s ridicules it left no option but to turn football into a none contact sport officiated by robots that we now know to today.

Now I get we all want to live in a robotic world of fingerless technology and flying cars but in changing good old fashioned sport to complex definitive black and white somewhat scars the simplicity of human error that sometimes benefits or enhances our viewing and participation of the game. For example if all players were perfect and never gave the ball away we would be watching a pretty boring sport that would soon die on its arse. I liken that to all referees not being perfect. Some will play on, let a couple of tackles go, others will clamp down on things early to get their control on the game? Now we are in danger of losing all that for right or wrong, whatever that is?

I’m not saying technology is a bad thing in football and we’ve seen the advantageous definitive that hawk-eye type goal line technology brings but VAR and ‘discretion’ is another thing? Maybe it’s the rules that need changing? Maybe we should acknowledge that the finger of an attacker being offside is not going to have an impact as after all that finger cannot be used in scoring a goal.

Maybe we need to revise the rules so they are all black and white? Maybe a complete simplification is the only way to ensure that we all understand how the game should be played?

I heard ex-Premier League Referee Mark Halsey state recently that “If a ball accidentally touches the hand of a defender in the box it would take a brave referee not to give a penalty” despite the rules stating that this is not a penalty? A contradiction? A confusement? A statement surely that means these Referees need to get together and learn the rules for the better of the game?

I always liked a couple of basic solutions to be inserted into the rulebook to allow referees to manage games. “A foul should be given when a player deliberately impedes an opponent in stopping them get to the ball”. “A foul should also be given when the ball hits the hand of an outfield player”. Football in it’s simplest term, made simple for folk that like the game in it’s simplest format.

Maybe if we throw in the offside rule to “only give an attacking player offside when in the opposition half they are second nearest the opponents goal line when a ball is played forward to them” we will then have a full set.

A yellow card can be given for unsportsman like behavior (this would cover dissent, violent conduct, foul play) and a red card can be given on the referees discretion for the same but of a more ‘serious nature’.

Playing football there really isn’t (and shouldn’t be) many rules to follow. Don’t kick your opponent, don’t cheat, don’t argue with the referee. If we ensure that football is made more simple and played more simply in its finest and best most free-flowing format than why the need for all this crap technology that only adds confusion, tension and delay to what should be something very very easy to follow, control and understand.

So re-write the rule book, simplify the laws to allow basic interpretation of common sense and scrap this VAR crap until our Referees, Players and fans at least know what is going on.

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