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New Rules Are Ruining Football

Football is back! The Premier League is now underway, and the rest of England’s football leagues have already played their first few fixtures.

Greg Devine


Portrait of excited female football fan waiting for the premier league to start.

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Football is back! The Premier League is now underway, and the rest of England’s football leagues have already played their first few fixtures. 

The laws of the game often change as a new season begins, with new initiatives introduced by each country’s footballing associations concerning their officials and how they wish them to referee the game.

In England, the FA want to see a crackdown on time wasting and dissent. Those who watched the 2022 World Cup will remember that lots of stoppage time was added on to the end of each half. For some reason, the FA thinks this is a great idea to introduce into our leagues.

Spoiler alert: it’s a terrible idea. 

The motivation behind this change is to keep the ball in play more. This should make the sport better; however, there are so many issues with this. 

Photo by Mitch Rosen on Unsplash

To start with, it massively hinders fans who physically go to the matches. If every game has an extra 20 minutes added on, how will those attending know when the match will end to arrange transport? This is particularly bad for fans travelling from afar, who are much more likely to miss trains, but, in general, all fans will now return home much later than usual. You could argue that they’re getting more minutes for their money, but in truth, it doesn’t really work out that way. Players are already tired from the long seasons and arguably too many games; now, with this extra time, players are visibly tired. Tired players don’t make the sport better, they make it worse. They can’t perform at their top level if they’re fatigued.

This increase in time disproportionally affects smaller teams compared to the big ones. Take my team: Rotherham United. We have the smallest budget in the Championship (second division); this also means we have one of the smallest squads, because we can’t afford to pay lots of players. It also means we can’t rotate our team as much as those with huge financial reserves, which means our players are already more tired than those in top-flight football. And now we’re asking them to play around 10-20 minutes more than they played last year. Over a full season, this will take its toll on the players’ bodies, and could lead to more injuries. If our best players become injured, we won’t win as many games, and we may face relegation. How can this move make football a better product? It will only suit teams with high budgets. How is this fair or competitive?

The other imitative is to crack down on player dissent. I’m not against this at all. As a former referee, I know all too well how little respect you receive on a football pitch. Most newly qualified referees quit within two years, due to the disrespect and confrontation they encounter. It comes from the top; professional players get away with screaming in referees’ faces, so Sunday league footballers think this a valid part of the game. The FA now encourages referees to hand out a yellow card if a player protests in an antagonising manner. This is a great idea, and how it should be. When professional referees don’t follow this rule, however, the effect quickly disappears.

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

Rotherham United played Blackburn Rovers recently. The game included a perfect example of professional referees not doing their job correctly, which makes refereeing harder for those in grassroot games. For the whole game, Blackburn had been on the referee’s back; with every foul they gave verbal abuse to the referee, all of which went unpunished. There was also an incident in which a Blackburn player was thought to have kicked the ball away; he didn’t, and therefore didn’t receive a yellow card (rightfully so). A Rotherham player did the same thing, and he did receive a yellow card. Clearly, the referee favoured the bigger team. Rotherham scored a goal and the player responsible celebrated. He was given a yellow card, as the referee considered his reaction to be excessive. This usually only applies if a player removes his shirt or antagonises the crowd. The scorer for Rotherham didn’t do any of this, he just celebrated near the fans, not with them. Moments later, the same player was fouled. Much like Blackburn players had been doing all through the game, he asked for a yellow card; however, his request was unfathomably deemed unacceptable. He thus received a second yellow card and was sent off.

Poor governance ruins the sport. There were no difficult decisions for the referee to make in this game, and he showed clear favouritism. If you’re going to crack down on dissent, which referees should do, you have to do it for both teams, not just one. The role of a referee is to be as fair and consistent as possible. 

The only thing these new rules seem to be achieving is the favouritism of bigger teams. This takes away the whole point of sport and competition. How can teams in the lower leagues compete fairly when everything is weighted towards the bigger teams? If this continues, we will have no true sport left. Sport is entertaining because its competitive. 

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