What we need is geriatrics as ball boys and no offside

FIFA has agreed that a change in the rules about free kicks can be tried next season, just to see how it works. It will give the referee the power to move a free kick ten yards further forward, should the defensive wall be mucking around, encroaching, delaying, generally playing silly buggers, which they have always done, since the year dot com.

I'm not quite sure how many times the ref will be able to move the kick forward, if an offence keeps on being repeated. It could happen that one side is moved right off the pitch, into the stadium, back into the dressing room, out into the car park, into the coach, up the High Road, on to the motorway and home. It would be a good way for players to avoid all the post-match traffic and make it to the pub or the club before anyone else. It is well overdue. Buggering around at free kicks deserves to be penalised; it is so petty and annoying. FIFA has seen it working well in rugby. Worth a try.

I think the sin-bin idea is also worth borrowing from rugby. This is when someone committing an offence is sent to sit on the bench for ten minutes. I like watching their faces. Some look pensive, some pissed off, dejected or resigned, head in hands, hands in face. It certainly cools them down.

A red card could still be issued for something really nasty, and the player would be immediately off for good, but ten minutes in the sin bin could be used instead of a yellow. Very often, a red card is the result of two very piddling yellow-card offences, neither brutal, such as swearing or kicking the ball away. The sin bin would be sufficient punishment for such offences and not cumulative.

Not arguing with the referee, that's something else that could be imported from rugby. It's remarkable how obedient they are in rugby - union or league. It could be something to do with all the money now at stake in football, although I suspect it's more historic. Traditionally, rugby players did not go in for all that celebrating - which today means cuddling, kissing, punching the air - nor did they go mad and emotional when things went wrong. Public school chaps did not do that sort of thing, unlike those unwashed working-class soccer players, unable to control themselves.

What else? I would like FIFA to contemplate reducing the number of players on the pitch from 11 to nine. Now that all players are so much faster and fitter, pressing and harrying for 90 minutes, many games become totally congested in the middle of the pitch, with no space or time to build up moves.

I would also like to see the abolition of the offside rule. This is the most controversial law in football, which always leads to arguments. It has been in existence since 1867, so purists will say that it must be retained, but it has been altered over the years. Early on, it required three of the defending team between the attacker and the goal to play him onside. Then, in 1925, it became two defenders. Now one dozy defender can play an attacker onside. I think I've got that right. I can understand it spatially, when it happens, or doesn't happen, but it's hellish to put into words. I've just looked it up, rule 11 of the 17 laws of the game, and trying to work it out has given me such a rotten headache. The Campaign for Plain English should have a go at rewriting it. What is the point of it? I presume it was to stop goal poachers - players just hanging around in the opposition's goal mouth, the way we used to do in playground football.

Defenders would have to rethink their tactics totally if there were no offside rule. The effects might be negative, with certain defenders made to stay rigidly at the back, never allowed to go forward, in order to guard against goal hangers. On the other hand, it could lead to more exciting, more open, more positive play, ending the coitus interruptus that occurs when a brilliant move, resulting in an excellent goal, is then deemed to be offside.

I would like to see referees given proper watches. At the moment, they are all working on watches that add on more time at the end of the second half than at the end of the first. Oh yes they do. I've been keeping count. A second half can go on for five extra minutes, for no apparent reason, whereas the first half usually ends on time. Why is this? Is Sky to blame, wanting the half-time ads to start on time? Or is it because the ref is dying for his half-time cup of tea?

I'd like to see gloves banned. I mean for outfield players, not goalies. No reason really. It just annoys me. I now boo every player wearing gloves, especially if he is a native-born Brit and should be used to our weather. Becks can wander around half naked in a thong, yet in the winter he insisted on wearing his little woolly gloves to keep his little pinkies warm. Diddums. ("Is it a shit-slicer?" I heard one little boy ask his mum when he saw an illustration of Becks in his thong.)

It's good to see female refs coming through, if only one or two at the top level, and it's also good that team mascots, the little kid who gets to walk out with the team, can be either a boy or a girl.

But there is one diabolical unfairness I'd like to see changed. It's dreadfully ageist, probably against the law. Why can't mascots or ball boys be oldies? Why have they always got to be kids? We have an oldie of 67 managing Newcastle United, still full of pep, and all his hair, so why not ball oldies? It would keep a lot of overactive oldies off the streets, out of the strip clubs and the saunas.

Perhaps FIFA could get working on this in the close season. What am I saying? It doesn't exist any more. Traditionally, after the Cup Final, the lads had two months off. Not no more. Football, like the poor, is always with us. But I'm off for two weeks. Back in time for Euro 2000 . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 May 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Hacking their way to a fortune