Issue Empty seats on the bench as the FL goes from seven to five subs

As told by Michael Wood

The Football League turned the tide when announcing that next season clubs will only be able to choose three from five, rather then seven, substitutes for League games reducing the number of bums on the bench for the first time since the extra men were introduced.

From none to one to two to two and a goalkeeper to three to five and to seven the number of men waiting in the wings to go onto the wing has increased always. For the first time now the FL has cut the number back.

The logic is sensible. In times of hardship clubs have found it hard to muster seven spares and the resultant pressure to do so has caused some problems. Reducing the number of pros required in a squad will – in theory – help clubs who are trying to watch the bottom line.

The downside is a reduction in the cover for each player of course – the days of the Adrian Heath utility man are firmly behind us – and a reduced number of tactical options for those managers who like to think that the right three replacements will turn a game in their favour.

Add to that the idea that young players are more likely to get a chance with a broader bench. Paul Jewell spent years at Liverpool but in the days of one seat on the bench he never got a game. Pool needed a player who could be thrown on at right back or left wing as injury would dictate and that was not Jewell (although he did play both roles for City) and so he got no chance.

There seems to be a another way and one which the Football League has ignored which would have taken the pressure off clubs to fill seven seats while not removing the tactical options for those who want them, or the opportunities for the youngsters.

Rather than setting a number of five or seven why not just allow a club to select from all registered players to be on the bench. Any three who the club held a registration for could be shoved on but – crucially – the club would be under no onus to set a number. If Team A wanted replacements for all eleven players ready for action they could, if Team B wanted two guys in reserve they could have them on the bench. Team C could have the development squad ready to go if needed and so on.

No club would be forced to name seven, five, one or any substitutes and each could do as they wished. The practice is common in American Football – the one that looks like a game of catch between Motorcycle messengers – which seems to offer hundreds of numbered players.

The Football League perhaps will be commended for this decision and financially it make some sense but there is something about the openness of an all in substitute policy which appeals to me.

Five not seven on the bench next season, and frustrated faces in the stands waiting for their chance.