Making all the rules, breaking all the rules...
The recent controversial proposal of England’s ‘big six’ to acquire a larger share of the Premier League vote and restructure the football pyramid, was unanimously voted down after huge backlash.
However, what it did for many is bring home the realisation that some reform is needed for EFL clubs to survive the pandemic that is ravaging those at in the lower echelons of the domestic game and could see others following the route of Bury and Macclesfield into insolvency.
What those changes to the game will be remains to be seen, but we have already seen the implementation of controversial new hand-ball laws and the adoption of video technology which have had a profound impact on football in a very different way in the past couple of years.
Goalkeepers aren’t immune to new rules or legislation handed down by the shirts at IFAB HQ in Zurich, and we found it fitting to look at some of the law changes in days gone by that have redefined their profession.
The Back-Pass Law
Once upon a time when your team would run down the clock with a 1-0 lead, they would not opt to run the ball into the opposing half’s corner or even slowly dawdle off the pitch when being replaced.
Before 1992, when a team was only permitted two substitutes in a match, the most common method of time-wasting was a back-pass to the goalkeeper who could then pick the ball up at their leisure.
It seems so alien to younger football fans and surprising that it wasn’t altered sooner, although many goalkeepers who keep receiving a pass on their weaker foot will be yearning for those days.
The implementation of the indirect freekick punishment was in the aftermath of the 1990 World Cup and in particular an incident in which Patrick Bonner dribbled the ball around his own box for six minutes.
The Ireland stopper would place the ball up and down in his own box to wind down the clock in a game against Egypt where his Ireland side needed just a draw to qualify for the knockout stages.
Despite this catalyst for change, a new rule in which an indirect freekick would be given for a back-pass would not be implemented until 1992 and did bring about some confusion to begin with.
Indirect free kicks a matter of yards away from an opposing goal became a strange sight as teams got to grips with the new law, but throw-ins were not extended to this until 1997.
Even in modern times goalkeepers are usually among the bravest on the pitch but spare a thought for those in the early days of association football, who could literally be barged into their own net with the ball in their hands, all within the laws of the game.
Before 1894, barging was perceived as gamesmanship and goalkeepers were essentially fair game.
The FA had only just introduced goal-nets two years previously and laws of the game were being updated rapidly as interest in the newly formed Football League grew at an even quicker pace.
In fact the coin toss, changing of ends and several other inherent features of our game were all introduced in 1894 along with more protection for goalkeepers
From the 1894/95 season the FA, who were the law-makers of the game at this stage, stated that goalkeepers could only be charged when obstructing an opponent or in competition for the ball.
It still may be a far cry from today’s relative luxury, but imagine a game where you could essentially be shoulder-barged into the net from a standing position.
This was the first of many laws that went some way to making goalkeepers less of the ragdolls of the sport that they were previously.
This one is far more poignant, as it took the untimely death of a bright young footballer to prompt a change in the law.
So often has catastrophe forced regulators to rethink and in 1936 the passing of Sunderland’s Jimmy Thorpe as the result of a rough challenge in a game with Chelsea, is a prime example.
At twenty-two, Jimmy Thorpe was on the verge of helping his Sunderland side to their sixth and subsequently last English topflight title, but with over half the season gone in February 1936 his career and life were cut short.
Thorpe was taken to hospital with a head injury after being kicked in the head by a Chelsea forward who had chased down a back-pass and died four years later in hospital as the injuries accelerated a pre-existing condition.
Changes were made to the rules where an opposing striker could not raise their foot to a goalkeeper’s head or indeed kick the ball out of a goalkeeper’s hands.