Spot-kick proposal may not provide desired result
Four times per year, all 72 Football League clubs get together to debate current issues within football. Last week's all-club meeting was held at Walsall Football Club and attracted far more interest than usual in proceedings.
Four times per year, all 72 Football League clubs get together to debate current issues within football. Last week's all-club meeting was held at Walsall Football Club and attracted far more interest than usual in proceedings. And not just because referees' supremo Keith Hackett was there to explain the mysteries of refereeing (explaining, incidentally, that all referees are monitored not just by match assessors, but also by the ProZone system that we use to assess player performances).
No - the reason why this meeting dominated so many headlines the following day was because of League Chairman Brian Mawhinney's revolutionary proposal that all drawn Football League games would be settled by a penalty shoot-out, with the winner getting a bonus point.
Perhaps not surprisingly, managers across the country were quick to criticise what they saw as an ill-conceived proposal. But, as Lord Mawhinney said, referring to a survey suggesting that fans found shoot-outs exciting, “managers may hate shoot-outs, but fans love them.”
Plymouth manager Ian Holloway, never short of a pithy comment, demanded, “where did they talk to these fans? In the pub? Were they drunk?” So often on different sides of the same debate, a number of journalists, managers, chairmen and fans found themselves unusually united in their condemnation of the idea.
The idea of penalty shoot-outs at the end of drawn games is not actually that revolutionary though. In the 1980s, a number of European leagues, including Yugoslavia, Norway and Hungary all used penalties to settle the result of drawn games. The USA's Major League Soccer and Japan's J-League also both used the idea briefly before it was phased out.
Despite its keen willingness to innovate within football, the Football League is actually quite constrained by what it can do. Anything that takes place within the 90 minutes of the match is the exclusive preserve of football's world governing body, Fifa, and our own Football Association. It is only things like the awarding of points within a league, or anything that takes place after the 90 minutes, that the Football League can actually influence.
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But some of the criticism of Mawhinney's proposals seemed to me to be a little harsh. The idea was based, after all, on a desire to increase the entertainment for fans. While at Carrow Road we are privileged to enjoy a supporter base that has proved to be hugely loyal despite poor performances, the picture is altogether different elsewhere.
Against a background of swathes of empty seats in the Premiership, away attendances dropping across the country and an overall decline in attendances in Leagues 1 and 2, there is a real and pressing need to look carefully at what can be done to reverse this worrying trend.
Penalty shoot-outs are just one idea that can be looked at - but the idea of making football more appealing to fans surely also needs to include a debate about more mundane issues - pricing, ease of travel to away grounds, the timing of matches - issues that have all in different ways affected demand for tickets.
In a world where attendances at many Premier League matches are woeful, the League needs to leave no stone unturned in looking at different ideas to keep supporters interested and ensure that the current trend of increasing attendances in the Championship continues for years to come.
And in that context, debate about ideas that might appear revolutionary today, but might become simply part of our beloved game tomorrow, is surely to be welcomed.
After all, it's not so many years ago that traditionalists were berating the awarding of three points for a win instead of two; or the introduction of the back-pass rule; or the play-offs. All three changes, revolutionary at the time, have become an established part of English football - and each, despite huge misgivings at the time, has undoubtedly enhanced the game we all love.
Penalty shoot-outs are certainly not everyone's cup of tea. But, as a club, we do welcome the idea of innovation within football - as long as it is what fans really want. As the demands upon supporters' wallets continue to grow, it is vital that football continually reinvents itself to keep the League at the cutting edge of exciting, passionate, live football. If penalties aren't the way forward, it is vital that all other options are explored and debated.
If we can do this, then the spectre of huge empty spaces at Premiership grounds will be kept at bay. As a club, we have a huge belief in the value of consultation. We would therefore be extremely keen to hear from supporters what changes they would like to see implemented - or, indeed, whether fans would rather the League left well alone.
On The Ball, City!