The other week I heard Jason Cundy, the former Chelsea defender and current talkSPORT presenter, make the statement: “Fans want to see their teams win, if they want to be entertained then they should go to the cinema.”
There is a man who has been in football since he was 16, and never had to work hard all week in order to buy a ticket to watch his team. Cundy assuming himself as the voice of the fans was ridiculous, his comment certainly didn’t represent my feelings, or any other football fan I know.
He was arguing with his co-host about whether ‘parking the bus’ was an acceptable tactic for teams to adopt.
This all-out defence tactic is commonly seen now, with sides accepting they can’t outplay their opposition and attempting to kill the game as a spectacle by refusing to concede a goal.
But that is not my objection. Smaller teams ‘parking the bus’ at bigger ones is acceptable. Any point is a good point if you are West Ham at Chelsea. It can be fun to see if Arsenal really have enough creativity and hunger to find a way through a stubborn Cardiff defence. What’s not OK is Chelsea parking the bus at Old Trafford or the Emirates.
A team that contains world class talents like Hazard and Oscar shouldn’t be trying to stifle their opponents, they should go toe to toe and may the best team win. But the pundits on Sky, the BBC and the radio don’t see it that way. They are full of praise for Chelsea for shutting out their opponents and suffocating the game of any excitement.
Can’t we expect entertaining football as a given?
Aren’t the fans who paid for their tickets, and those at home who pay for Sky, entitled to watch two of the best teams in the country scoring goals and trying to win? Can’t we expect entertainment as a given?
The fans have become irrelevant. The idea that they have a right to watch entertaining football is scoffed at by former pros and pundits. Even when a match day ticket can cost anything up to £60. Most former pros, and presenters seem to think that we are privileged to be allowed in the ground at all, to witness these great artists at work.
Well, the football world should be careful. The £40+ match tickets and £30-a-month Sky Sports subscriptions will soon be viewed as a rip off by fans, if entertainment is more than we can expect from ‘the greatest league in the world’.
Boring matches will equal smaller crowds and lower television audiences, particularly when Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Angelina Jolie and the rest can entertain us for about a quarter of the price.
So to save football I have compiled three rule changes that would give the game back to the fans.
1. Introduce a basketball/rugby type stopclock
The 90 minutes game is more commonly about 60-65 minutes of actual play. Nearly a third of the match is wasted by a list of fan’s frustrations, from faking injuries, time-wasting, the referee talking to the players, last minute substitutions etc.
The list goes on and all can be eliminated with the introduction of a clock that stops every time the play stops. There would then be no point in any time wasting by teams and managers, because the game will still last its full 90 minutes, giving the fans 100% value for their ticket price rather than the 70% they currently get.
The recent matches between Arsenal/Bayern and City/Barca were both ruined because of a red card for a foul that denied the forward a clear goalscoring opportunity. And in that moment the game was killed as a competitive contest. The entertainment was gone as now 10 men had to chase and defend for their lives with little realistic hope of taking anything from game.
The refs can’t be blamed, as they were only enforcing the rules as they are. Instead, give the penalty for the foul, and send the guilty defender/goalkeeper into a Sinbin for 15 minutes. The offending team will still likely go a goal down from the penalty, but only have to play with then men for a short time and the fans still get to watch an evenly contested game.
The sinbinned player can still receive his 1-3 match ban for the next few games, but most of this match remains 11 versus 11. Effectively, the red card would be removed from football, except in extreme cases such as violent conduct.
3. Tennis/cricket type challenge for managers
Very simple and would be very effective. It wouldn’t slow the game down, certainly no more than the behaviours listed in point one. And besides, even if it did, the stopclock would ensure the game still lasted its full 90 minutes.
Tennis players get three challenges a set to use when they feel a line judge has got the call wrong. They rarely use all three, and when they do challenge, a moment’s excitement goes through the crowd while they wait for the Hawkeye verdict, and see whether or not the call was correct.
A similar thing can be implemented easily into football. Two challenges per team per match, that has to be signalled by the manager within five seconds of an incident. If the ref doesn’t give a penalty, the manager challenges and a video ref has a minute or two to watch the incident again in slow motion from various angles to make the call.
It wouldn’t undermine the ref, it hasn’t undermined the line judges in tennis. It takes the pressure off, and it ensures that fans don’t have to listen to managers moaning about a referee’s decision that ‘cost them the game’.
So FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League, consider these changes. Because be warned, if you do nothing and continue to ignore the wants of the fans, then your money making monsters, that are the Premier League and Champions League, will be no more.