Rules is rules

The International Football Association Board met in South Wales last weekend. This is the body that reviews the rules and guidance to referees. It has a peculiar constitution – the four British home associations plus FIFA – and a voting system that makes the choice for the World Cup finals look like tossing a coin. (Maybe that’s really how they do it?) Anyway, they met and made some significant rule changes, many of which had an immediate impact at Valley Parade on Tuesday night.

The first change was to Pidgeley’s dress code. Snoods were banned, either with immediate effect or from 1st July, depending on which report you read. Pidgeley was clearly taking no chances on whatever the penalty for this new offence is, and the snood was absent. Or maybe it had just got warmer. IFAB had not, apparently, banned Terry Butcher style bandages, so Worthington was able to start the game with a covering for the eight stitches in his head wound. There was a spell toward half-time when he lost his bandage and the thought occurred that he might be committing some unspecified offence, contrary to some new directive introduced just days ago. If so, Mr Hegley didn’t spot it and it wasn’t until the start of the second half that a fresh bandage was applied, this time with sufficient glue to stay in place for the rest of the game.

But enough of what you can and can’t wear on a football field, unless you want to start on about the idiot in the mankini who ran on to the pitch at Havant and Waterlooville, in which case we would have to discuss whether that ref made the worst decision of the season by sending off the Dorchester captain for tackling said idiot. (Right now he has my vote.) This is supposed to be about Bradford City versus Rotherham United, so I had better get back to the plot – or the other rule changes.

I hadn’t read about some of these new rules, so it’s only my assumption they come from IFAB, they being the only ones allowed to make up (or not make up, as they think fit) new rules. The next one struck me as an unusual attempt by IFAB to brighten up the game. It seems they’ve abolished the rule that said you have to have all eleven men back in your own penalty area when the opposition have a corner. I was always unsure what the sanction was for breaking that rule, given that several visiting teams seem to have got away with persistent offending at Valley Parade this season. However, taking IFAB’s new ruling into account, Jake (or Jack, according to the BBC) Speight remained upfield for every Rotherham corner and was thus allowed to hold up the ball when Pidgeley played it swiftly upfield.

That very action on Pidgeley’s part also reveals another rule change that I hadn’t noticed. It seems to be no longer compulsory, but still optional, for the goalkeeper to roll the ball to a defender, who used to have to pass it to another defender, who was the one allowed to kick it as far as he could. I think IFAB should be congratulated for this amendment, which seems to me to have increased the pace of the game and thus the entertainment level. Who said Blatter’s a fool? (OK, so there is a long list of answers to that question.)

I’m a little unclear about what I saw as the next rule change, namely that there is no longer anything to say no home team member can play within twenty yards of James Hanson. Certainly Speight seemed to break that old rule many times, so I reckon they must have abolished it. Mind you, Speight was so obviously unsure of whether or not the rule still existed that he found it impossible to concentrate on what he was doing so close to Hanson, resulting in five or six excellent goal scoring opportunities going to waste. (They haven’t done something with that rule about ‘obvious goal scoring opportunities, have they? It just struck me that, if a defender can be sent off for denying just one OGSO, maybe there’s something now about a forward having to miss six OGSO’s before some action can be taken.)

Now the one IFAB decision I do know about is to do with goal line technology. We’re not having any. Well, not yet, say IFAB, because they don’t know if it works properly. It’s much better to rely on the human eye, whether that is the ref, the lino (sorry, the assistant) or that chap behind the goal, who must be about the fifth or sixth official and is not to be confused with a steward, even when he’s wearing a bright yellow top. Given my previous congratulations for Mr Blatter and his mates, I can hardly complain now about their decision not to make a decision on goal line technology. Excellent decision (or non decision) again, Mr B!

I can’t let IFAB get away with total credit. I have to say how disappointed I was to see that they’ve extended that rule that used to apply only at Old Trafford. You know the one I mean. It’s that part that allows a whole posse of players to surround a lino (sorry again, assistant) who’s just made a decision they don’t like. Even at the Theatre of Dreams I’m sure I’ve seen one or two bookings for that, whereas on Tuesday all I saw was the fourth official running on to point out to Mr Hegley that, while he and his assistant (see, I can get it right sometimes!) were doing ten rounds with the Rotherham players, somebody had committed the still grievous offence of taking his shirt off. Perhaps Mr B could have another think about the ‘mass berating of the officials’ rule and confine it to Old Trafford.

I’m still troubled by all these new rules apparently coming in virtually overnight. There must have been plenty in the crowd on Tuesday who, like me, weren’t aware of some of these excellent changes and shared my disbelief at how astute IFAB had been in their attempts to make our game more entertaining. But I shouldn’t complain about the haste with which these changes have been implemented. I have, after all, been one of those shouting longest for something to make our game more entertaining (see my match report from Hereford last March) and, swift as these alterations have been, they certainly go a long way to meeting what I’ve been asking for. I like these new rules and I think we should stick with them.