Will the proposed football law changes work in grassroots?


Posted by Elliott York - 11 July, 2017


Ahead of the new football season the International Football Association Board, the body that determines law changes in football, has released a document that contains some proposals that could re-shape the world's most popular sport.

According to the IFAB's director and former Premier League referee David Elleray, the new rules that are being discussed contain three main aims.

1. To improve player behaviour and increase respect

2. To increase effective playing time

3. To increase the awareness and attractiveness of the game

But if these changes are implemented, will they work right down to the grassroots stage of the football pyramid?

Shorter game time

One of the biggest proposed changes is the idea to shorten the total game time to 60 minutes, 30 minutes a half. The phrase 'if it isn't broke, don't try and fix it' definitely comes to mind, so why propose such a drastic change?

There is some logic behind it. The referees would stop their watches every time the ball goes out of play and as studies have shown, there are roughly around 60 minutes of effective playing time during your average football match. In other words, this means when the ball is in play, so discounting every stoppage for set plays, injuries, substitutions etc.

Football law changes - ref pic-1.jpg

This is all well and good at the highest level because the referee can get help from his three officials and the stadium clock with the timing. However, at the grassroots level, there's no chance they could be so accurate and stop the watch for the exact amount of time the ball goes out of play. Therefore, managers, players and parents/supporters will find a way to blame them if a result or decision doesn't go their way, something the game could definitely do without.

Penalty goals

Awarding a penalty goal if a shot is handled off the line will be a rule that divides opinion. The sense of injustice felt by the Ghana team when Luis Suarez deliberately handled the ball on the line as they missed the resulting penalty in the 2010 World Cup must have been indescribable.

Many people will be all for this, if the ball is clearly going in and an outfield player stops it with their hand then the penalty goal rule seems to be a fair result. The critics will argue that football shouldn't be going down the route of tallying goals when they didn't actually go in. They aren't wrong. Plus, being awarded a penalty is a gift for the attacking team and the penalty taker should always be scoring.

Football law changes - penalty goal pic.jpg

These situations don't happen very often either, so is changing the rule really that necessary? A penalty and a red card seem fair enough and the pressure on the shoulders of the officials to dictate whether the goal was going in or not would again cause an uproar if they happen to get the decision wrong.

Recieving goal kicks inside the 18 yard area

Elleray is also proposing that goal kicks can now be passed to defenders that are inside the penalty area. Short goal kicks have become a regular occurrence in the modern game, even at grassroots level it can be deemed undesirable to just lump the ball up the field. The term 'the attack starts with the defence' is used very widely these days but if opposing teams do their homework then simply pressing their forwards high up the pitch will counter the short kick, causing the scenario where the defender is forced to control the ball in the area.

Football law changes - goal kick pic 1.jpg

The rule change here would allow defenders to receive the ball inside the box, but the attacking team wouldn't be allowed to encroach them until they have touched the ball, eradicating the issue which would lead to a goal kick to be re-taken, something that slows the game down.

Speeding the game up is Elleray's and the IFAB's intention here, but then the situation would potentially rise where a goalkeeper would have to wait for all the attackers to get out of the area before he can make a pass. So how would the referees regulate this?

Some kind of rule would need to be implemented determining what the attackers could do if a quick goal kick is made, and at what point they can start to interfere. At grassroots where an official linesman doesn't exist, the referee will need exceptional vision and awareness to keep track of this proposal.

No rebounds from missed penalties

There is a lot of debate around the encroaching and general rules around the taking and scoring of penalty kicks. Elleray's solution to stop the arguments from taking place is to eradicate rebounds from the penalty spot. If the spot kick is saved or missed then the game would be stopped and re-start again from a goal kick.

This will put a stop to the encroaching that sometimes goes unnoticed by the referees in grassroots football, but it will also massively tone down the excitement of a penalty kick. The sudden anguish to relief when the rebound flies in will disappear, or the potential for a quick counter attack will be halted as the game grinds to a stand still.

Football law changes - penatly image.jpg

The rule will be a fairly easy one for the referee to implement and keep on top of, but football is all about excitement and if we start to introduce rules that are going to slow the game down then the game will start to lose its character. The solution to a problem that isn't a massive problem at any level of football seems a bit too much.

No more surrounding the officials 

Points deductions or fines for teams who surround the referee is another proposal. This is an issue right across the football pyramid and anything to try and cut down the number of times a referee is hounded and abused should be addressed.

The problem this rule faces, especially at a grassroots level, is how the referee can prove he was surrounded and what exactly accounts to being surrounded? Elleray indicates the captains from each team should be the only ones to approach a referee after what they perceived to be a poor decision has been made.

 Football law changes - referee surrounding.jpg

Concise rules will have to be there to show both referees and teams exactly what is meant by surrounding the referee and how bad it needs to be for the club to be hit with a fine or a points deduction. You can't blame players for trying to tell the referee he's got a decision wrong if there is a lot at stake, people react in the heat of the moment.

Could there be an argument to say if a team goes and apologies after the game then the case should be put to bed or is the problem extensive enough to hit them with a fine no matter what? It's certainly a potential rule that will raise plenty of questions.

Further pre-match handshakes 

Pre-match handshakes between officials and managers could be imposed, which would see the referee go to each dugout and shakes the hands of both coaching staff before the game kicks off.

This is all about displaying respectful behaviour between the two and this is something the IFAB want to demonstrate. A welcoming rule that will be easily implemented across grassroots, but will it really stop coaching staff displaying their disgust if they don't agree with the decision?

Self passing from set plays

Finally, self-passing from corners and free kicks is looking to be introduced to the game. This rule would see us revert back to the historical origins of the game and would mean the person who is fouled could effectively dribble the ball themselves from a set play.

Football law changes - self passing.jpg

The thinking behind this from the IFAB for the top level of our sport is to encourage attacking football, but there are doubts that it would work at the grassroots level. Deep discussions will have to be made as to what happens when the referee gives a free kick, will the defending team still have to retreat 10 yards? If the answer is yes then what is the point, the game will have to be stopped and the rule will effectively become a quick free kick, something that happens in the game now.

This is a similar style that hockey has adopted and it has worked well for them, but it is difficult to see how it would change football for the better. 

Further discussions are to be held regarding these potential new rules with the date of these yet to be decided. 

The re-vamping of football will raise tonnes of questions so if you have any thoughts or comments then leave them below, it's a topic that will get everyone talking. 


Topics: Football, Grassroots, Opinion

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