The way that the game is played might have changed, but the rules of football, both on and off the pitch, have proved to be remarkably resilient to change over the years. Although there have certainly been significant changes to the game over the course of the last three or four decades or so – the introduction of the backpass rule, for example, or changes to the offside rule to favour attacking players – these tweaks have seldom fundamentally altered the experience of watching a match. Advisors, however, do not guarantee their future livelihoods from everything staying the same in perpetuity, and so it is that, from time to time, some well-meaning soul or other will suggest a refinement to the laws or administrative rules of the game with the intention of refining it for a modern audience.
Much of the time these changes end up in the bin, but every once in a while one a league administrator will have a brainwave which causes him to think that that he might just have thought of something that will completely revolutionise the game or impress some FIFA mandarin or other to such an extent that they convince some poor souls to give it a run out for a few weeks, or sometimes even longer. With this in mind – and bearing in mind that these people still walk amongst us – here are six rule changes that were introduced, considered, and, either after a short amount of time or some years, quietly put back in the drawer marked “failed experiments.”
The Goalkeeper Can Handle The Ball Anywhere In His Own Half Of The Pitch: Here’s a thought. Had any of us been born in the middle of the nineteenth century, the game that we would have known for the majority of our lifetimes would have been very different – almost, but not quite, unrecognisable – from that which we know today. Over the course of the last thirty years of the nineteenth century, association football was codifed to make it quite distinctive from most other ball games played in this country at the time, and one of the most distinctive of these differences was one that is perfectly self-evident to any of us that watch the game today – football is, as its name suggests, a game primarily played with the feet.
It was in 1870 that the FA introduced rules to distinguish goalkeepers from the other players on their team. It was called Rule 8 and part of it read that, “The goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.” It took a while, but some goalkeepers soon learned how to work around this rule in order to benefit their teams, and the most notable of these was Leigh Richmond Roose, who played in goal for Stoke City, Everton, Sunderland, Celtic, Huddersfield Town, Aston Villa and Arsenal between 1901 and 1912. Roose was in his own right an accomplished goalkeeper – he made twenty-four appearances in goal for Wales – but he also gamed the rule about handling the ball in his own half to its maximum efficiency, bouncing the ball up to the half-way line before launching an attack from there. Roose’s tactic was so effective that several clubs complained to the Football Association on the grounds that he was ruining the game as a spectacle, and in the summer of 1912 the laws of the game were changed so that goalkeepers could only handle the ball inside ther own penalty areas.
The Thirty-Five Yard Shoot-Out: The origins of the penalty shoot-out are tied in with the development of the game as spectacle for television audience. Although shoot-outs are recorded back as far in time as the early 1950s, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that it became apparent that the tossing of a coin or ordering of a replay to decide knock-out matches wasn’t a satisfactory way to resolve matches in this brave new world. It was in 1968 that, having seen Israel lose an Olympic Games quarter-final match by the drawing of lots, that Israeli administrator Yosef Dagan wrote to FIFA suggesting a change to the rules that FIFA adopted after the 1970 World Cup finals. It was immediately apparent, however, that there were flaws to ending a match with a penalty shoot-out and the North American Soccer League proposed a solution that is still frequently cited as an alternative to “the lottery” of penalty kicks.
The NASL took its cue from ice hockey shoot-outs. Instead of penalty kicks, the league resolved its tied matches with shoot-out starting thirty-five yards from goal and with the taker having five seconds to attempt a shot at goal. The taker could take as many touches as he was able to within this five second window whilst the goalkeeper could come out and meet him, should he wisht to. While there were advantages to this way of wrapping matches up, though, it never really fully caught on, quite possibly because these shootouts weren’t quite as exciting or aesthetically pleasing as we might have hoped they would be, as this coverage of a 1980 match between New York Cosmos and Washington Diplomats demonstrates. The NASL went to the wall in 1985, but the idea was picked up in America again by Major League Soccer when that league began in 1996. It was finally dropped in 2000.
Two Points For A Home Win, Three Points For An Away Win: The 1960s and 1970s were a tough time for non-league football in England. A variety of different factors can be ascribed as reasons behind this, and one was most likely the lack of upward mobility for clubs. Teams could apply to join the Football League, but since the end of season vote was taken by clubs themselves, it was seldom that anybody actually found a way into the top ninety-two. So it was that in 1979 twenty top non-league clubs banded together to form the Alliance Premier League, and this was a league that was not afraid to tinker with its rules in the hopes of attracting interest from outside. Meanwhile, a fierce debate over a decline in playing standards had been taking place in the media for many years, and it was in 1981 that the Football League – at the behest of the then Coventry City chairman Jimmy Hill – became the first in the world to introduce a system of rewarding wins with three points rather than two in the hope of encouraging more attacking football by increasing the difference in the reward for winning from that for drawing a match.
This rule change wasn’t universally popular, though, but the Alliance Premier League – now better known as the Football Conference – changed their rules to give teams two points for a home win and three points for an away win in 1983. The idea was to encourage away teams to chase wins to a greater extent and had been trialled in minor league before, but there was little noticeable change to the way that teams played away from home and in 1987, when automatic promotion and relegation with the Football League was introduced, the idea was dropped.
This rule change did make a difference to where titles end up, though. At the end of its first season, Maidstone United pipped Nuneaton Borough to the title by one point, but Nuneaton would have won the title had a straight three points for a win been in place. At the end of the following season, the difference was even more marked. Wealdstone lifted the title by four points when it would otherwise have been fourth placed Bath City who would have won it by a point had the rules that every other league in the country followed been in place. At the end of the 1985/86 season, Enfield won the title by a comfortable enough margin for this differential to make no difference, and the rule was dropped as the league prepared for automatic promotion and relegation with the Football League at the start of the 1986/87 season.
No Offside From Free Kicks: Ever the innovators (in their own minds at least), the Football Conference couldn’t leave their tinkering alone, and at the start of the 1987/88 season the league tested an experimental rule change whereby no attacker could be offside directly from a free-kick. Again, this was an attempt to coerce clubs into more attacking football – Scarborough had won the previous season’s league title by scoring just sixty-four goals in forty-two league matches, for example – but again the idealism of the game’s administrators soon ran into difficulties when set against the realities of two football teams both desperately trying to score goals whilst stopping the opposition from doing so.
The problem with this rule change became almost immediately apparent. Free kicks from almost anywhere on the pitch from the centre circle on were greeted with the somewhat undiginfied sight of almost every player on the pitch swarming around the goal-line jostling for position as the ball was launched into the melee. Fun though such chaos might have been to watch once or twice, players, supporters and managers quickly tired of matches become little more than successions of chaotic set pieces, and the idea was laid to rest after just a few weeks of the season.
Kick-Ins As Well As Throw-Ins: The idea of taking a throw-in seems so essential to the nature of watching a football match that it seems scarcely believable that anyone woud have ever wanted to tinker with it, but this is exactly what happened in the Diadora League – the equivalent level to the Conference South – during the 1994/95 season. was invited to trial a controversial new initiative from FIFA. Having tried out this experimental new ruling in Japan and at the 1993 World Youth Cup in Australia, the governing body were keen to experiment for a wider audience, so along with leagues in Belgium and Hungary, the Diadora League was invited to become guinea pig in a season long ‘kick-in experiment,’ under which players could kick the ball back into play rather than throwing it, providing they raised their arms first.
This initiative was supposed to add an extra dimension to attacking play, but automatically became unpopular with players and managers to the extent that some clubs simply refused to do it, with one manager, St Albans City’s Allan Cockram, telling his players that their contracts would be terminated if they took a kick-in. Teams that did adopt it seemed to only use it to launch the ball as far upfield as they could and, because the kick-ins were similar in nature to free-kicks, the flow of matches was increasingly disrupted. If you are wondering how they looked, you can see one here. The idea was dropped at the end of one season, and hasn’t been seen again since.
The Silver Goal: The idea of penalty shoot-outs as a resolution to matches was, as mentioned above, criticised by some as unfair from its inception, and in 1993 FIFA introduced the idea of the “golden goal” as a resolution to matches instead. It was voluntary, but most international confederations introduced it for their own tournaments, with it being used for the first time at a World Cup finals in France in 1998. It was abolished after the 2004 European Championships, but by that time UEFA had added a new layer of ridiculousness to it with the “Silver Goal”, which made its debut at the Europea Championships in 2000.
It worked something like this. If a team scored in a match during extra time, the team leading – or, in the event of more than one goal being scored, the team leading after the first fifteen minute half had been played – would win the match, but the game would no longer stop the instant a team scored, as happened under the Golden Goal Rule. Simple. Kind of. Competitions that operated extra time were able to decide whether to use the golden goal, the silver goal, or neither during extra time, but did UEFA adop it for its major tournaments.
As things turned out, though, only one major competitive match was ever decided by a silver goal, the Euro 2004 semi-final match between Greece and the Czech Republic, when Traianos Dellas scored for Greece with just seconds of the first period of extra-time left to play. As with so many of these other experiments, the reality of playing to win had come up against the hopes of the administrators. As with the Golden Goal, teams were spooked by the idea of conceding a goal and losing rather than feeling encouraged to score a goal and win, and adopted more defensive formations, which resulted in many extra time periods during this era ending scoreless.
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