The Thundercliffe Files: the scourge of rulemongering

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

12 September 2019

Now and again, people come up with ideas meant to speed up the game. Players soon find ways to slow it down again

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There's always a few tweaks to the laws of the game at the start of a new season and this year was no different. Changes to where opposition players can stand in a defensive wall, substitutes leaving the pitch at the closest possible place and goal kicks not having to leave the area were amongst the changes for 2019-20.

I'm all for a rule change. When the back-pass rule came in at the start of the 1992-93 season it fundamentally changed football for the better. The old system, where players could just knock it back to the keeper to pick up at will stopped the flow of the game and allowed negative play. Although I fondly remember Tommy Watson sprinting to play a one-two with Steve Sherwood to waste some valuable seconds when we were promoted in 1991.

In fact, Sherwood was the first keeper I saw break the new back-pass rule, which given his age at the time, wasn't so surprising. What made it special, however, is that on at least two occasions when he did it, the ref also forgot the rule, allowing Stevie to do a little wink and boot the ball up to Murray Jones.

What bores the shit out of me is the way that subtle changes to make the game more positive and flow better are circumvented by canny players

The game has to evolve but the trouble is that players and teams just find ways to overcome these changes. As we know, a player can play a backpass with his head, so Brian Laws, then of Forest, lay down on the pitch to head a ball back to the keeper. This rulemongering was soon outlawed. But what bores the shit out of me is the way that subtle changes to make the game more positive and flow better are circumvented by canny players, so what you actually get is the opposite outcome.

Take goal kicks. The law was changed a few years back to allow the keeper to take a goal kick anywhere in the six-yard box, presumably to speed up the game: the ball goes wide, he's the other side of the goal so can just take it from there.
However, what actually happens is a keeper trying to waste a bit of time will deliberately go to the opposite side of the six yard box, thus slowing everything down. Boring. And I know if McKeown does it then it is part of the game, but it just seems to occur against Town every match.

I’d change the law slightly. If a keeper is deemed to be deliberately wasting time doing it, they not only get a yellow card but the opposition get an indirect free kick in exactly that position. They'd soon stop it.

While we are on with keepers, a few years back they brought in the rule which meant that goalies could only have the ball in their hands for six seconds. Any more, and it's an indirect free kick. I think I've seen a ref give that once. Last week, James Hanson stood there counting up to 10 while the ref just went about his merry business (and the standard of refereeing gets poorer by the season). Again, if you penalise it, the game gets faster.

Head injuries are another one. Nobody wants to see a serious situation developing and you can usually tell by the players reaction (Ravenelli versus Livvo springs to mind) if it's serious. What absolutely boils my piss is the callous, tactical holding of heads knowing that the ref will stop it, for fear of it being serious. Happens at least once a game. Shameful.

I'd ditch the quick goal kick rule – already teams pretend they are going to take it short, get the defenders in and then send them away to take it long. Wastes about 30 seconds a pop.

The game should be about integrity and fair play. Rulemongering, like franchises, shithouse owners, VAR and goal music, has no place in football.