How to get better football: try nine-a-side and blue cards
Next season, Fifa is going to try having two referees. Not sure what this means, one in either half or what, not sure Fifa knows what it means, but they're going to experiment with it in several countries, not yet named. Right, I hope that's clear.
I am clear, though, about the changes I would make if I were boss of the whole world, football section. Are you ready?
1 I'd change from 11-a-side to nine-a-side. People think 11-a-side is how nature intended it, or what God decreed when he created football 140 years ago. Players are now twice as quick, twice as fit, twice as skilful, but not quite skilful enough to get out of each other's way. I get so tired seeing all the congestion in midfield, the ball pinging around, one side gives it away, the other side then gives it away, up in the air, all over the shop, players barging into each other, or hacked down the second they have the ball.
If we're soon going to have two refs on the pitch as well, we'll need traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, sleeping policemen, one-way sections, just to sort out the chaos. There's so little space, so few decent movements are allowed to build up. Look how often when a team is down to ten men they do better. With nine on each side, there would be more chance of skills flourishing, moves developing.
It would also save money. With nine in the first 11, I mean the first 11 becoming the first nine, you could reduce squads by 2/11. Naturally, clubs would reduce ticket prices by 2/11 as well. Our clubs are caring and considerate, looking to be fair to all us spectators, to give them respect, ha ha, bloody roll on, squire.
2 The use of the word "hopeful" to be banned in all football interviews. Also, "I've seen them given" and "give them respect".
3 An entrance exam before anyone is ever allowed to write about football. Hordes of newcomers are pouring in today, from all over the place, taking our work, stealing our lines, taking our women. That Charlie Whelan, he gets shoved out of the Treasury and what does he do next? Only writing a football column in the Observer, that's what. I will excuse him as he is a Spurs fan and might duff me up in the West Stand at the next match, but not all the others.
So what would the test be? Ten years of football reports from Brunton Park on a wet Monday, that would be the first test, followed by blindfold tasting of Bovril. Then write all you know about Billy Houliston. That should sort them out.
4 An entrance exam before any politician, any VIP, any middle-class person, with or without their family, is allowed into Wembley Stadium. They're also pouring in, taking our places, sitting beside our women. What sort of test? Well, a harder one, as we all know you don't really need any skill or talent to write about football. Such as what was the score when Billy Houliston played at Wembley on 9 April 1949? That should fettle them.
5 Yellow cards divided into two sorts. What happens now is that a player can get a red card and be off the pitch for two piddling yellow card offences, like saying "boo" to the ref, or not getting back ten yards at a free kick. Yellow cards should only be for physical offences, like nasty tackles, dangerous play, fighting, deliberately handling the ball. Non-physical offences like swearing, disobedience, ungentlemanly conduct, should incur a minor penalty, like a blue card.
6 And while we're at it, I'd like two sorts of penalties introduced. Most penalties are out of proportion to the crime, often giving a team an easy goal when they never looked like scoring. When it's an accidental trip or foul or handball, I'd like it to be a simple free kick. The other team would then defend it in the usual way, with a wall of blokes holding their bollocks. A penalty, as we know it, would only be given for a deliberate and serious foul. OK, so a referee would have to make a difficult judgement, but that's what refs are there for. Apart from getting in the way of everyone.
7 Stoppage time clearly announced. It's a joke having one official standing there on the touchline holding up a little illuminated notice, usually in the middle of a crowd of coaches and subs, all jumping around. Most people can't see him, let alone read the number. Any extra minutes should be announced over the loudspeakers and flashed on the screen. Yes, I know, places like Brunton Park don't have a screen. But Michael Knighton could get himself a big megaphone and run up and down the touchline, bellowing "Three minutes' stoppage time!" Give him something to do.
8 Man Utd to be fined £1 billion every time their pitch is really, really lousy. They can walk on water, so they think, but can't get the grass to grow. Despite their millions. Ditto Chelsea and Newcastle United. Newcastle's pitch last Sunday against Arsenal was a disgrace. Man Utd have tried some frantic but pathetic patching, changing it almost as frequently as they change their strips, well, not quite as often, as they bring in new strips on the hour, but the upshot is that the surface at Old Trafford now looks as if it's been given over to medieval strip farming.
9 No more pay-as-you-view football matches. It's a rip-off, innit. Unless of course at the same time they introduce money-back offers if you are not totally satisfied, such as that utterly boring 0-0 draw last weekend between Oxford United and Sunderland which began all this nonsense.
10 Two minutes' silence at all matches on Saturday for Billy Houliston, who died last month. The first hero I ever had. Played for Queen of the South and Scotland, one of the Wembley Wizards who stuffed England 3-1. Now you remember him . . .