Is the tide finally turning against defenders?
I have complained before about the prodefence mindset that dominates football thinking; a negative mindset that obviously works against creative, attacking play.
Yet this destructive mentality is repeatedly defended with the mantra that football is “a contact sport”. Not long ago the Professional Game Match Officials, representing the English Premier League’s referees, felt it necessary to point out that “physical contact is an acceptable part of football”.
Acceptable, yes – but only within very strict limits. Rule 12 singles out seven actions, all of which involve contact, and bans them if they are committed in a reckless – or even careless – manner. With kicking, striking and tripping, even the attempt to commit them is punishable. The rulebook also bans holding or “impeding an opponent with contact”.
It could not be clearer that football’s rules are intended to severely limit physical contact. That is an approach light years away from that of the “football is a contact sport” proponents. Rugby, gridiron football, boxing and wrestling are contact sports. They cannot be played two years late. Television replays have exposed the rampant holding, shirt-pulling and grappling that goes on in the build-up to corner kicks. Referees frequently intervene before the kick, feebly telling players to behave themselves. Sometimes players are punished. But when that happens, the pro-defence bias kicks in.
We know, thanks to those TV replays, that everyone in the penalty area, attackers and defenders alike, are breaking the rules. If the referee calls a foul, it would surely be logical to expect half of the decisions to go against the attackers, and the other half to be penalty kicks against the defenders. But it has always going to be a farce”.
We have been listening to this doomsday argument for years, but Crouch himself sees that his fears are illogical when he speculates that the new policy “will soon eradicate it – you won’t have any holding because you don’t want to give a penalty away”.
The EPL’s new policy is to be welcomed. Not only because it emphasises the integrity of the sport and its rules, but also because it marks an important retreat from the long-standing pro-defence bias of refereeing.
What is needed now is for FIFA and IFAB to clamp down globally as the Premier League is doing in England.
Free-for-all...Burnley (in claret) and Chelsea players get to grips with one another ahead of an incoming corner