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July 2021

The single step that would improve all football at a stroke

By Tony Attwood

Summer parties have been a bit damp in much of England this year – but on Saturday 9th June I attended one in Rushden, Northants, which allowed a spot of sitting outside, sipping the drinks and taking in the chatter, and some extremely lovely food.

I knew few of the guests, so inevitably got chatting to who ever was standing around and not talking about things and people of whom and which I knew nothing.   There was a little chat with a Professor of Maths (retired) from the Open University (“I am still entitled to the title ‘Professor’ – it stays with you for life”) and an interesting young real estate lawyer from New Zealand who was desperately to find work in the UK.

And inevitably there were some Arsenal supporters there.   There was a Tottenham man and a Chelsea fan, but inevitably in every party in the Midlands, Arsenal always dominates.

So we got chatting, I spoke about the research I’ve been doing on Leslie Knighton (see the History site if you haven’t caught up with it) and what with one thing and another, I found myself listening to a lifetime supporter by the name of Russell Cox.

Russell put forward an idea for dealing with serious foul play in football which I found revolutionary and exciting and although I don’t normally reveal the chit-chat by the fish pond, this was so good, I’ll make an exception.

Here it is:

If a player gets sent off for serious foul play, instead of the player being banned for 3 games, the “position” should be banned for three games.  In other words the offending player’s team would have to play the next three games with only ten players.

Now on the technicality of banning the “position” I am not sure that would quite work, because play can be fluid and who is to say if (for example) the centre half (to use the old phrase) was sent off, that in the next match the defensive midfielder was actually not dropping back into that position.  Besides, to ban the position of  goalkeeper after a sending off would remove an essential part of football.

But the idea of the reduction to 10 men, I love.

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Of course there is a danger that it would put even more power into the hands of a ref.  If Arsenal are done down by a referee who is in the pay packet of another club, then by getting the player sent off the ref would be able to influence not only this match, but the next three matches.

So I guess we would have to say that the new rule would be implemented alongside a full and firm investigation into the dubious activities of PGMOL and ref fixing.  (See Untold Refs and Untold Corruption for all the background – the links at are at the end.)

But I loved this idea so much it made me think: what else could we change in the rule book?

Certainly we could take referees out of matches automatically if their rating fell below a certain level as judged by an independent panel.

And we could also do something about injuries.   How about this: if a player is injured as a result of a foul, then he can have attention as now – but the bit about having to go off the pitch to come back on should be abandoned.

But if a player is injured through any other reason, and he causes the ref to come over to him, because he continues to lay on the ground, he would then have to go off and stay off for five minutes with the fourth assistant indicating when the time was up.

I would also love to see implemented some of the rules that currently exist – such as the keeper only being able to hold the ball for five seconds.

And I would introduce a rule in which the keeper has only 10 seconds to take a goal kick from the moment in which the ball is returned to him or a member of his team, after it has gone out of play.

Oh yes, and there’s one to do with rotational time wasting (where others collude with the keeper to take forever to take a goal kick, free kick, throw in, etc) and rotational fouling (where players take it in turn to commit small time niggling fouls so that no one gets booked for repeated foul play).   I think every time the ref spots this, he should give a yellow card to the captain of the team.   So do it twice and your captain is sent off.

Any more…

I am sure there are but I’ll stop here.  A million thanks to Russell, whom I had never met before yesterday, for the idea.   While the ladies were discussing the latest in soft porn, and the men were trying to work out how the “magician mindreader” did his “pick a word at random from this book” routine, it was a great conversation.

And it was a great party too.


Latest stories

Untold Referees …   Untold Corruption


39 comments to The single step that would improve all football at a stroke

  • Scott

    How about a time limit on any set play.
    If a player receives a long term injury due to a foul,then the offender should be given his term,but that should be on top of sitting out of the game until the injured player returns.
    In other words,if a player crash tackles another and breaks his leg,he should cop his 3,6 weeks,whichever….but should be suspended until the leg heals and the injured player returns to football.
    That’s when the 3 weeks would begin.
    It may make some guys think twice.

  • Sid

    I was watching the games last night and thought about scarpping penalties altogether due to the amount that the refs either miss entirely, or give for blatant dives.

    Then I kinda re-jigged it and now suggest we get rid of the 18 yard ‘box’ and just keep the smaller one, so if any thing happens in there, a penalty would be awarded! Everywhere else, as in the rest of the pitch, a free kick would be given.

    Seeing as how Arsenal never get pens, it would even things up a bit if nothing else!

  • Rhyle

    Scott…like where you’re coming from with that, although, as always it’s hard to prove intent. If it’s an accident…yes, a clumsy tackle, but an accident it’d be a little harsh to ban them for 4, 5 months plus.

    If you can prove intent…as would certainly be possible (though hard to prove conclusively) in incidences like that in the case of the Mackem nutter who broke Diaby’s ankle…then you should ban the player for life. There should be no room for that in the game at all.

  • Rhyle

    As for time wasting – that should be in the hands of the fourth official. If he deems that a side en masse, they should be punished accordingly. And additional 5 minutes of play if they’re winning or drawing or all additional time removed if they find themselves losing at the end of 90 mins. That should stamp it out.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I rule that should be implemented a bit more: putting the wall at the full 9 meters distance.

    The problem is some law changes could give more power to the refs. And as long as the refs are untouchable for their “errors” we should be careful with introducing good laws.

    As in real life : if you have the best and clearest laws in place it all is worth nothing if the judges are corrupt.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Rhyle, the time wasting is something that I have proposed also. No greater injustice than a team that has wasted a lot of time and after 90 min 1-0 down and then getting 5 minutes of the time they have wasted before and then scoring in that extra time.

    Just like Liverpool last year did in the 100th minute or so after they had wasted all the time all game long

  • Scott

    Rhyle,I’m not suggesting the guy was out to break a leg,but if he is guilty of making a late tackle,or one from behind,then he’s guilty as charged and should sit on the sidelines longer than the injured player.
    I think it would stop a hell of a lot of cynical challenges,and certainly dangerous ones.
    When Balotelli crunched Song,and that really was a leg breaker,Imagine if he’d broken our guys leg….we’d have lost Song for twelve months,yet that grub was back in 4 weeks.
    These tackles happen in most games,and it’s only by luck there’s not more bad injuries,

  • Omglol

    Stop the time at any moment when the ball is not in open play(killing time wasting at zero). And this should be done from 2-3 ref’s outside the play field. Use this group,to influence the game with ability to see replays of specific moment. With this things off ref shoulders he can focus on controlling the game at best. This is done in most of the sports. The 5 min penalty for injury is bit harsh, but its like the 2 min from handball for bad foul(witch can be implement for fouls). Lot of things can change football for better, because its that much bad managed from FIFA/UEAFA.

  • Scott

    Omglol,it’s the best ame in the world,so doesn’t need wholesale changes imo.
    It really needs a few little tweaks,because it can always be better.

  • insideright

    @Tony – how much did you have to drink at this party? What you’re suggesting would imply that if a team is forced to play with ten men and then has another player sent off they would then play the next game with nine. And so on…No ref would ever have the nerve to send anyone off ever again. Even Joey Barton would stay on the pitch!
    My solution would be to add a third card (blue?) which would be for the ‘minor’ infringements such as kicking the ball away or timewasting (especially by keepers) with the strict proviso that there is no argument about the ref turning a blind eye to any such offence. Two blues = a yellow and, as now, two yellows = red. Of course four blues would also equal red which means that a keeper who starts time wasting in minute one (how often do we see that chez Emirates?) would find himself off by half time which means it would soon stop.
    Serious foul play should be carefully reviewed after the event with the potential of far longer bans for the offender being imposed Two matches is ridiculously short and I would suggest a minimum of five perhaps with the club being able to be present at the review to defend the player and hear the evidence as it’s discussed.

  • Matt Clarke

    I disagree with any form of punishment that could work against the team offended against.

    Thus the three-game positional ban could work out well for your opposition – if they have have to play the reduced team in the next game.

    Much better would be rugby’s sin-bin.

    5 minutes off and an off-field ref review of the incident with appropriate further penalties to the player if necessary.

    But, as you state, whatever rules you have they are only as good as the MiB … so that would be a better place to start reform.

  • Byron

    Allow the physio on while the game goes on….. This would stop players play acting

  • Jimin

    I think most of the problems we’re having is as a result of poor officiating and bias. Let the ref score himself at the end of each game after watching replays. Telling us what he did wrong and things he was not sure. This ll abrase us with the team his errors are helping most

  • Stuart

    How about the ball should be in play for 90 minutes or a minumum set figure eg 85 minutes.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Some ideas.

    1) two referees. Other sports have it and the problem of two opinions on the field of play is not an issue.
    2) Crap ref – ref must meet the press after the game.
    3) sin bin. This is an easy one and it has been implemented in rugby to good effect.
    4) time wasting – stop the clock when the ball goes out of play or if play is stopped. 90 min of play is too long for a game so a panel could actually check the average time the ball is in play in a game and that would become the new standard. Probably 60-70 minutes would be about right.
    5) Rotational fouling – institute a sanction for the total number of team fouls per half.
    6) grevious fouls seen or unseen by a referee are automatically reviewed by a panel with the ability to add or subtract sanctions.

  • bc

    Wouldnt wprk. what if a team has a player sent off 3 matches on the spin or how about if they jave 2 or even 3 players sent off for for seripus foul play in one game? you could see teams turning out with 6 men!

    i think a way of dealing with it that is fair. is if a player is sent of against a team and bamned for 3 matches he should miss the next 3 matches against that team. this would not work on an international front or european but domestically it would.
    but if the authorities truly want to rule out serious foul play then points deduction is the answer. however the incident must be proved first. it amazes me that a team can be deducted up to 15 points for having insifficient funds. yet if their players go out to intentionally break another players leg there is no penalty to the club. also i would consider this. if a player makes a leg breaking tackle with no intention of playing the ball. then he should simply be banned until the victim returns to playing.

  • Tee Song

    I think reducing a team to 10 players for the next three games would have the opposite effect of your intent. Refs would be LESS likely to send off a player. There’s quite a bit of pressure on refs to keep the game “even” and not send players off. Match announcers say all the time that a particular game has lost its appeal “as a spectacle” and that the ref has unduly influenced the outcome of the match by sending a player off, never mind that the sending off was absolutely justified. In reports the next day, writers will then repeat that the sending off taints the result, even if they acknowledge the legitimacy of the call. The idea that a player was rightly sent off for a rules infraction gets lost in the demand for a “fair match, eleven v eleven.”

    I believe that if you allowed sent off players to be substituted within the limits of the three substitute limit for the game, refs would be more likely to enforce the rules as written. The pressure to keep the game fair by keeping both sides at full strength would be removed. The offending player gets appropriately punished. His team is punished by losing a tactical substitution. Especially in the case of second yellow cards, BPL refs in particular seem to not want to give those lest they be judged as unduly influencing the match. Never mind the obvious contradiction that by not applying the laws of the game, they’re already influencing the match negatively.

    As for players faking injury, if they’re unable to continue after 30 seconds, call out the stretcher and take them out for a minimum of five minutes, allowing them to receive the medical evaluation and treatment they so desperately need while allowing the game to continue.

  • WalterBroeckx

    If a player wants medical assistance he should be removed from the field for 5 minutes. Together with the player who committed the foul. Both stay outside as long as the injured player is off.
    If he really is injured an should be substituted the player who committed the foul should also be replaced.

  • Matt Clarke

    Great except that it would be abused…imagine this:
    I get the ball and head towards Messi – he has to tackle me or run home like a little girl.
    he does so and I go down…ouch ouch ouch…poor me.
    I stay down and it looks serious.
    The physio (the team physio) comes on and says “Ooooh, that’s bad”.
    So off we both go.
    Both get substitued and Messi misses the rest of the game.
    That evening I dance until midnight ‘cos I’m really okay.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Matt, that happens when you type faster than you can think.

    Walks off in shame 🙂 😉

    After posting I realised something was wrong in my indecent proposal 😉 And with all those intelligent people out here I knew I would be found out.

  • Matt Clarke

    It’s those with criminal minds you should worry about…oh…
    /Walks off in shame. 🙁

  • Marc

    An easy way to deal with time wasting would be to link the ref’s watch to the stadium clock. That way everyone can see that the time will be added on, if however the ref does not stop his watch then genuine questions can be asked of the ref.

  • nicky

    I think much more thought and attention should be given, not so much to rule changes, but rather to a means of controlling match officials. Too often on this site, we have read time and time again, reports of the most outright biased decisions made by referees who are clearly favouring one side over another.
    Something must be done to rein in the crooked official, whether by de jure means or not, I don’t know.
    What IS certain, the present system, full of suspicion (in many cases proof) cannot continue indefinitely.

  • paul

    In the timewasting vain. I’ve always thought that making it an offence for the Keeper to come out of the box would help in several ways.
    It irritates the life out of me when a keeper has the ball in his posession. He looks around. Drops it. Rolls it forward. Walks out of the box. Looks up then hoofs it up the field. To me classic tiemwasting. Blackburn. Stoke, Bolton, etc.
    Also think back when Lehmann charged out of the box in the CL final and was then sent off. It would stop that happening too. They may have scored that night but at least we wouldn’t have been down to ten men and Bobbie would stayed on.
    Just a thought.
    Gooner for life

  • John L

    id love to see….

    a ‘sin bin’ with the inclusion of an orange card. where a team goes down to ten men for five or ten minutes. if you collect five yellows you miss a match, maybe if you collect two or three ‘orange’ cards within a certain number of games you face suspension. orange plus yellow equals red with a longer suspension than two yellows, and obviously two oranges or an orange and red card harsher sentences again.

    i think all contentious incidents should be reviewed by a video panel. regardless of whether it is in the refs ‘report’.

    there should be two refs in the field, four lines men, and two on each end of the field. all with the power to make a call.

    managers should be given the ability to question a call. maybe by sacrificing a substitution, if the call is overturned based on video replay the substitution is not sacrificed.

    goal line technology should be used immediately. and you dont have to have a bloody chip in the ball. tennis certainly doesn’t seem to need it. cameras mounted in the goal could certainly do the job.

    the clock should stop when the ball is not ‘live’ this would eliminate time wasting and the refs behind the goal are in charge of counting the keepers seconds. i believe the current rule is six seconds.

    if a player is hurt, and a video panel decides it was a deliberate or a card-able offense, the player who inflicted the injury is suspended until the injured player returns to fitness.

    fouls in the box are not necessarily penalties. indirect free kicks can be given for fouls in the box that might be harsh penalties as it wasn’t a goal scoring opportunity but would be a foul anywhere else on the pitch.

    if only i was sepp blather…..

  • Adam

    Great idea the lad Russell had. So simple yet has escaped us all. It’s a bit like communism “Great idea, Bad in practice”. It won’t be allowed to work. I prefer the idea of a points deduction for yellow and red card accumulation. Although as stated in this article the ban would only apply for serious foul play. So food for thought. Medical staff should be allowed to enter the field during play accompanied by the fourth official who can decide if play needs to be suspended.

  • mark

    I like John L’s idea of orange cards! It gives the ref an option that is less then a red but clearly stronger than a yellow.

    I would also like to see two refs on field and then have video replay for all penalties and suspected penalties. And have techno for the ball going beyond the line.

    The clock stopping would also stop time wasting.

  • Stuart

    I like the idea of an Orange (or other) card to reward some harsher circumstances as it could also be carried over into the next game as a yellow maybe.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Forcing the players to become refs would solve a lot of problems. 😉
    Now that would be a revolutionary idea if I may congratulate myself. 😉

    serious now, if they would be forced to learn the rules completely (I wonder if this is done at any professional football club????) and bring it in practice they would learn what it is like to be a ref and understand the difficulties.

    And learn about the dangers and the dangerous tackles and throwing elbows and other disgusting things they do on the football field.
    Let them experience what it is like to being chased around by a mob of shouting and swearing players…

    Seriously now. Last season I went to a game of the national youth of a second division team in my country (first division in England) and had a nice talk with the secretary of the club after the game. Told him how impressed I was with the excellent behaviour towards me as the ref. Not a word or gesture in my direction at all. He told me that all their players had to do youth games as a ref where there is no official ref appointed by our FA. They organised a course for this and the players learn about the problems you can face and take it with them when they play their own game.

    Educating the players could be a big start to better understanding.

    But that still wouldn’t solve some crap decisions from a crap ref of course… 😉 …sigh…

  • steve

    I quite like the idea of stopping the clock when the ball is out of play. My maths might be wrong but I pay £985 for my ST at Arsenal for 26 matches thats nearly £38 per game that works out at 0.42p per minute(i think). If the ball is not in play for roughly 20 mins of a match I am wasting £8.40 on non football.

    Easy to sort out everytime the ref blows his whistle the clock stops when he blows his whistle again for re-start of the match(corners, goal kicks, freekicks, pens etc) you have 10 seconds to re-start if you do not then the ball goes to the oposition. If the opposition try and stop the taking of the re-start the ball is moved 10 meters in which ever direction the team wish.

    An official time keper in the stands is in charge of all time keeping and is in contact with the ref on the pitch to let him know whatis happening with the timmings of the match

  • Stroller

    I can’t see that any rule resulting in teams starting a game with an unequal number of players can be a good thing. Matches would seriously be distorted (and remember football is a spectator sport). Even now when a player is dismissed we see games changed to one-way ‘all behind the ball defence against attack’ for the remaining duration. Would people really want to turn up for a game knowing this is how it would be from the outset?

    The change I would most like to see is removal of the barrier preventing review and punishment for serious foul play after the game where the referee is ‘deemed to have seen and acted on the offence’. We know that refs make mistakes and make bad decisions, yet to set them up as infallible when it comes to potential career-ending fouls is plain wrong.

  • Bob Foster

    I have long been an advocate of the use of a sin bin approach. This would means that tactics used to disrupt the flow of the game (e.g. time wasting, persistant fouling etc) which usually result in just a yellow card and have no real impact on the offending team in that paricular game will actually impact in a positive manner for the team being wronged against rather than another random team 7 games down the line once there is actually a suspension.

    I also beleive that there should be a rule in place where only the captain is allowed to speak with the referee, this would elevate the importance of the captain as the team mouthpiece on the field and also stop harrassment of the referees by large numbers of players.

    If these were implemented I am sure this will actually reduce the enjoyment level for a while whislt teams still test just how far they can get away with things, however will result on a more flowing game in the long term.

  • Wale

    Just what should that Camerounian with the funny hairdo who caused Sagna’s first leg-break get? I maintain the shove was unnecessary and hold Assou-Ekotto directly responsible.

  • ian

    Problem with current system is it can work against the team that is offended.

    As an example a player gets sent off aginst AFC in the last minute then misses the whole of the next game, if that game is against manure then they are the true benefactors.

    Not sure of the soloution but do like the suggestion about the player missing the next three games against the team he is sent off agianst.

    Also with regards to career threatening challenges then a points deduction could work, especially if the team offended agianst pick up those points.

  • jax

    When a substitution is taking place the outgoing player should leave the pitch at the nearest point so that the incoming player can then come on immediately. This would assist teams making tactical or injury based substitutions and at the same time put paid to the long deliberate time wasting trudge off.
    I’d like to see our home leagues use the European cups and international competitive match system of multiple match balls to keep the game moving. Why don’t we do that?
    Yes and more transparency regarding how refs are marked and penalised re poor performances. When one has a stinker I want to know if the PGMOB sanctions him in any way.
    One rule change I particularly liked was where players warming up now have to turn left and do their runs & stretches well away from the linos who were becoming distracted by them. Hope to see this extended to other leagues & international games.

  • Yommex

    What if there is a serious injury caused by an opposing player such that the injured player is unavailable for more than a specified time maybe six weeks (to actually be determined by sports medicine experts); for as long as the recuperation lasts, the club of the offending player is made to pick the wages of the injured player until he gets back to full match fitness? At least it would not be a double loss to the club of the injured player – having to miss the player for an extensive period of time while also paying his wages as he recuperates.

  • jax

    There has to be a defined punishment for each offence but with some flexibility for extreme situations where a player is seriously injured by foul & reckless play. To say a player should be suspended for the same amount of time as the one he injured is daft and could be counterproductive as is the idea of docking points. There is legislation in place for looking at each situation and setting the punishment. I think the system in place now works well and regular offenders (like Barton) get their just deserts.

  • baz

    I think make the goal 1 yard wider and 1 foot taller and you can only be offside within the penalty area! More goals! more high scoring games!

    i like the idea of only penalties awarded inside the 6 yard box….

  • Ronnie Lewis

    Fell into your website by accident, like what I see, will use it more often.
    Why do Referee’s not give indirect free kicks anymoe, espically inside the box. I would ask anyone on your site to try & recall the last time a Referee give an indirect free kick, you know the one when he holds his arm up until a member of the same team touches the ball