Here are the problems I want to, ahem, tackle. Too many players are sent off. Too few referees dare let common sense confuse their timorously rigid application of the rules. Early yellow cards mean defenders are thenceforth scared to tackle opponents, which is what they're there to do, for fear of dismissal. The ease with which cards are given encourages players to cheat in order to get their opponents into trouble.
Although teams can and do adapt tactically when a man short, this usually spoils the game for spectators, who are ripped off as it is. Football should be a test of skill, tactics and endeavour between two teams of 11 players, not a test of resourcefulness in overcoming - or attempting to engineer - numerically unequal opposition.
It all used to be so different ...
When I was a wee lad following Charlton Athletic I was regularly passed over the heads of the spectators so that I could throw my pocket money at opposing players while simultaneously avoiding the urine streaming down the terraces from those who could afford beer but not a seat. In those days a player’s leg would have had to reach row G in the stand for the referee even to think of sending anyone off. To be dismissed from the field of play was a sin and a shock. Fathers would shield their sons' eyes from the departing miscreant as one might from someone convicted of interfering with livestock.
We must return to those days, with the exception of letting sheep fertilize the pitch at half time, although I propose that this practice continue to be permitted at Millwall.
Here are some rules to improve things, both to enhance spectators’ enjoyment and to help bring some of the little shits who play the game into line.
1. Adopt from rugby the idea of the ‘penalty try’. Either of these sanctions will concentrate minds wonderfully after a first judicious application:
- Award a goal if the last defender handles the ball before it would have crossed the goal line. Don't send the defender off or show a yellow card: the conceded goal is both sanction and deterrent.
- Award a goal if the last defender (this includes the goalkeeper) brings down an attacker. Again, don't send off the defender or show a yellow card unless the tackle deserves one regardless of where it was made. Watch for cheating attackers though - see Rule 4 below.
2. Adopt the ‘Sin Bin’ instead of a second yellow card (which presently results in dismissal). Unless the offence is serious enough to deserve instant dismissal - that is, it is malicious or reckless such as to threaten serious injury, or so cynical that, elsewhere, a custodial sentence in an open facility would be required - the offender must spend 15 minutes out of the game (so is effectively dismissed if it happens during or after the 75th minute or the 105th minute if extra time is being played). Once back on the pitch, any further misdemeanour that merits a card results in straight dismissal.
3. If the last outfield defender brings down an attacker who would otherwise have only the goalkeeper to beat, send the offender to the Sin Bin (unless the nature of the challenge deserves a straight dismissal) and award a penalty, whether or not the foul happened inside the 18-yard box - so it's still attacker against keeper, but on the attacker's terms.
4. Toughen the sanctions for cheating. Send to the Sin Bin any player who dives, dissents, feigns the need for reconstructive facial surgery after a pat on the back from an opponent or asks, "anyway, how much do you f*cking earn then?" as he gets up after a robust tackle.
5. In the case of malicious or reckless tackles, the referee will only have the option of the Sin Bin or a straight dismissal.
Right, that’s sorted. Now to the Palestine Question. Which, if I can solve the problems of football as easily as I just have, should be a piece of cake. Hold my calls unless it's Tony Blair, in which case say I'm out for dinner with Henry Kissinger.