Where’s your arm right now? Would you say it’s in a natural position? Isn’t it always in a natural position? Is your natural position the same as my natural position?
And if you’ve just struggled with Davinson Sánchez for a few seconds before he vaguely fires the ball near you from point-blank range, where would you naturally put your arm? That’s a question for Ashley Barnes’ subconscious — or it’s a question that Ashley Barnes’ subconscious got wrong last Sunday. It chose… poorly. It wasn’t the holy grail of natural positions – unless, of course, you think he put his arm in that spot on purpose. It’s his brain I assume.
Well, according to the letter of the law – or in other words, justly the law – The Burnley forward conceded a penalty that could have a crucial effect for them and for Spurs’ Champions League push to the top, obviously ignoring the fact that it all evens out over the course of a season.
But has Barnes made himself unnaturally taller? Or just naturally bigger? Or of course the same size but in a slightly different shape? Is Ashley Barnes’ surface a constant or is it ever-changing – and how unnatural can it be?
The actual law states: “A player has unnaturally enlarged their body if the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence or justifiable by the player’s body movement in that particular situation.”
Interpretation doesn’t seem to be judged by people who have never played the game, but by people who have never moved at all. Try wrestling a bit with a tall Colombian man and see where your hands go.
We’ve gotten to a point where hardly a player, nobody in the stadium, at home – not even the most partisan Spurs supporter – has even noticed handball, until the now-traditional confirmation walk to the monitor; Charade “TV Show” sign (wish they would do “Song”); theatrical point on the spot.
Nowadays there are many ways to easily piss off football fans and it’s really easy to change the rules of the game. Someone will call you and yell IF IT’S NOT BROKEN DON’T FIX IT, and then call you Melt or Dry Lunch or something.
But the laws are not perfect. A brainstorming/idea lounge/thought carousel on the topic is certainly worthwhile. Imagine we’re Team Geronimo sitting on beanbags in the early stages of The Apprentice. One of us has a whiteboard and a sharpie. Karren Brady’s right over there. There’s no such thing as a bad idea.
So let’s start with handball. By 1912, the goalkeeper could handle the ball anywhere in his own half. One wonders what those early FA Cup games looked like. No back pass rule and goalkeepers just pick up whenever they want.
It’s sad to think that kids on the playground can’t just say, “INCORRECT! BALL AT HAND!” but instead try to figure out where the armpit begins and ends.
So idea one. Let’s not go back to 1911, just reintroducing intentional handball unless you deny a goal. Stick it on the whiteboard.
Next. Let me (re)introduce Paul Doyle’s law. The former Guardian journalist’s idea that if you thwart a scoring chance anywhere on the pitch, a penalty will be awarded. You remember Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s foul near the halfway line. Miss a penalty and book the player. Keep 11 vs 11.
And very important: Don’t award a penalty for every foul in the penalty area. There are too many penalties. If a player has no shot and is bumped or clipped then it is only a free kick. The first example that comes to mind is a Liverpool penalty in 2020 at the London Stadium. Arthur Masuaku kicked Mo Salah’s foot as he walked away from the gate. According to Paul Doyle’s law, this is a free kick inside the box. And football would benefit from more of that.
Sin-bins for professional fouls. Think of Chiellini tearing Saka’s collar at the Euro. Cancellation of the game. No attempt to get the ball. Ten minutes in the bin. Better or worse for the game?
Allow VAR to subcontract bookings. Allow referees to retrospectively book and dismiss players. Allow contesting of yellow cards. Encourage officials to book players to dive even if they have been fouled. Beckham cuts off Simeone. Red card. Simeone is still diving. Book him (and book him for the tackle from behind – we’ll win the 1998 World Cup!)
Let’s think about heading the ball. Sometime in the future – 20, 50 or 100 years – nobody will believe that gamers ever used their heads. Let’s see how it looks. Let’s consider phasing it out. Start without a header, except for shots on goal/defenses, ie crosses. You can still score – but those booming headers from goal kicks and clearances will end. ‘LET IT BOUNCE’ will be the new scream from Sunday League pitches across the country.
And let’s try out all these changes during Community Shield. Top notch, but that doesn’t matter. Some may work, some may not. Interpretation will always be part of it. But its nice.
The task ends. Have we improved football? Hand over your work to Lady Brady. Go to the boardroom. Listen to Lord Sugar’s jokes. They say don’t fix it because it ain’t broken. Sit in this miserable cafe. Get fired. Try not to look at the comments.