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Football’s Best And Worst Rule Changes

Football is always evolving. Like a living thing, it adapts to its own flaws, always striving for perfection. Sometimes, however, the new challenges and solutions the sport goes through in the form of rule changes are not for the better, and end up making FIFA look like idiots.

As new rules are being trialled across the world’s less popular leagues as we speak there’s always tale of some preposterous measure being trialled that whips fans into a fierce frenzy, but never actually goes anywhere.

It was the same for some of the positive rule changes that greatly benefitted football, capturing the ire of fans, many stipulating certain changes would cause the death of the beautiful game altogether.

This is the best and worst of football’s most impactful rule changes.

Golden Goal (1993-2004)

Yes, the golden goal only lasted 11 years, and contrary to popular belief was the standard before it was abolished.

Introduced to encourage more intense extra time periods where teams would goal for the jugular in tired desperation creating an attacking frenzy, it instead inspired the opposite approach, teams resting on their laurels and tentatively pushing forward.

There were few memorable golden goal moments in these 11 years which is a testament to the dull football it inspired.

Its first official use came in 1995, a Football League Trophy match between Birmingham City and Carlisle United ended 1-0, the first-ever golden goal coming from Paul Tait.

There were a few memorable moments the rule provided, however. 

Germany and France both profited thanks to the rule, Germany famously won the 1996 Euros with one thanks to Oliver Bierhoff on 95 minutes, crushing Czech dreams.

While France won the subsequent Euro 2000, in admittedly astonishing fashion, one of the only examples of the rule creating a bigger story.

Trailing 1-0 until the 94th minute, a last-minute equaliser from Sylvain Wiltord in the 94th minute sent the match to golden goal.

Win in the French sails thanks to snatching victory away from Italy at the death, they sucker-punched the Italians with a Trezeguet winner.

Finally, in 2001 Liverpool beat Alaves in the UEFA Cup final but in an ironic twist, the victory came in the form of an Alaves own-goal.

Eventually, after realising their mistake, FIFA reverted back to good old standard extra time and penalties, which has since allowed for some extra time crackers that wouldn’t have happened if golden goal was a thing.

It was scrapped in 2004, following a desperate attempt at re-working the system…

Silver goal (2002-2004)

Because Golden Goal wasn’t working as intended, FIFA had the brilliant idea to go one better. The…Silver Goal? 

Yes, in 2002, UEFA announced the concept of the silver goal, which ran for two years and can be considered UEFA’s ill-thought-out edgy phase.

The silver goal basically meant that the team winning the game at half-time of extra time would be declared the winner.

In theory, it was a better way of forcing the original mission statement of the golden goal.

Just imagine it, both teams want to score and win with a maximum of 15 minutes to hold on for glory. But if one team does score, the other will throw everything at the other to find a way through.

It was genius right? A foolproof improvement on the golden rule.

But it wasn’t, it changed little and felt an even more unfair way to win a game.

Famously, it decided the Greece vs Czech Republic game in the 2004 Euros, with Dellas scoring on practically the last kick of the half, sending the Czech Republic home.

It was scrapped along with the golden goal because it made games worse for both the players, the spectator and as a spectacle, artificially manufactured drama which only took away from drama that could have been.

Advancing Free-kicks 10 metres Forward In The Event Of Dissent (2000-2005)

This is a weird one that I honestly wasn’t even aware of.

In the year 2000, football was trying to incite a politer generation of footballers. As they sought to end verbal abuse to officials, it seemed appealing to footballers’ sense of human decency wasn’t enough.

So instead, If the ref blew for a free-kick and a wave of spittle and anger followed from the offender, the kick would be moved forward 10 metres. 

This was not limited to a one-time deal either. Continued verbal battery could see the ball move forward 10 more metres.

Before you knew it, a 45-metre-out free kick set to be launched upfield by a centreback was a freekick from just outside the box being stood over by a dead ball specialist.

Honestly, this rule sounds like it could be useful today, but after 5 years of use, it was scrapped in 2005.

It’s a shame, I bet it would work today and probably worked well at the time. 

Referees liked it too. 

Sending players off for dissent seldom occurs, and a yellow isn’t brandished enough either.

The psychological weight this sort of treatment can have, not just from a mental health standpoint, but also on the ref’s ability to make impartial decisions is massive.

Dissent was reduced massively, but FIFA withdrew the use of the rule after players would provoke opposition into reaction to bring the ball up the pitch.

I mean it’s a pretty weak reason, especially when players simulate, overreact and provoke players routinely in the modern game. I think it could do wonders in football today.

Substitutes (1965-Present)

Until 1965, if you had a player who got injured, you hauled him off the pitch and played with a man less. Best case scenario, you left him on, stuck him on the wing as a passenger, and hoped he could hobble up and down and boot balls into the box.

But for the 1965/66 season, wanting to discourage from potentially injuring players further, the substitution law was introduced, allowing one substitute per game.

Most teams would hold on to this sub for emergencies. The game was nowhere near the intensity it has been played at in the last 25 years, as players pressed significantly less often.

With the advent of substitutions, managers and players could take more risks, and more importantly, injuring a player no longer benefitted the other team as much.

But just one substitute meant there was still plenty of incentive for dirty play, as Leeds famously demonstrated under Don Revie in the late 60s and early 70s.

After almost 20 or so years of the rule, the sub started to gain tactical notoriety. The term ‘Super-sub’ had soon been coined by Liverpool’s David Fairclough, for his knack for influencing games from the bench.

Teams only had one substitution all the way until 1987, when a second sub was introduced, reserved entirely for the goalkeeper.

It was another quality-of-life improvement for managers, further encouraging aggressive tactical substitutions.

 But when the Premier League started, everything changed.

A team could suddenly name three subs, but by were still bound by one needing to be a keeper.

In addition, only two subs were allowed to play, meaning a team that made two outfield subs that had an injured goalkeeper just had to play with 10 and stick an outfielder in goal.

Luckily, the F.A saw sense, and after just two seasons instigated a ruling allowing all of the subs to play, beckoning forth the era of tactical subs and allowing for a more intensive style of play.

Then in 1996/97, you could put five on the bench, as recently as 2008 they finally started allowing seven on the bench, which seems shockingly recent. 

The End Of The Backpass Rule (1864-1992)

Ah, the infamous backpass rule. By far the most important way in which a new rule has transformed football.

See, before 1992, a defender could simply pass the ball back to his goalkeeper,  who would receive the pass, hold onto the ball as long as he could, and hoof it upfield.  

Unless the other team could win the second ball and launch an attack, usually the ball ended up back in the keeper’s gloves again, with a sickening sense of Deja Vu creeping over the spectators.

But in 1992 after over a hundred years of use, the backpass rule was abolished. It came off the back of an awful Italia 90 World Cup where backpass-related time wasting was at an all-time high.

Initially, the rule caused chaos. Goalkeepers overnight went from only needing to use their feet to save and hoof the ball, to needing to be able to control the ball with their feet and pass the ball when needed.

This change led to some awful defender goalkeeper mishaps, and quite a few indirect free-kicks in the rule’s early days.

But after initial scepticism from players and particularly the goalkeepers union, the rule brought forth a rapid evolution of the beautiful game.

This triggered the series of events that led to the ball-playing goalkeepers that are so integral to the sport, that many teams opt for goalkeepers that are better on the ball than they are goalkeepers. 

Take for example Jason Steele at Brighton over Sanchez or the famous example of Joe Hart, unable to adapt to Guardiola-ball, and frozen out despite being at the top of his game just a year before.

You wouldn’t have thought it was particularly difficult to grasp that you could no longer pass it back for the keeper to pick up, but it was intellectually beyond some players, who just couldn’t break the habit with hilarious consequences.

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