Football is a pretty simple game.
Even if you’ve never watched the sport in your life, you can sit yourself down in front of the TV and understand the aim of the game pretty quickly.
The team who scores the most goals in the opposition’s net wins the game.
Okay, there are numerous laws that players and teams have to follow throughout the 90 minutes but you don’t need to know the intricacies of every rule to enjoy the beautiful game.
These days, though, even the most ardent of football fans get a bit confused with the rules at times.
With the introduction of technology and the desire for the sport to keep evolving, the suits at FIFA and UEFA appear keen to introduce new – or tweak current – laws every season.
However, introducing new rules in theory is very different from actually implementing them at the highest level of the game.
The FA’s attempt to stop dissent against officials
A prime example of this occurred ahead of the 2001/02 season as the FA attempted to curb the level of dissent shown towards their referees. They came up with the novel idea of moving a free-kick forward 10 yards if the opposition protested against the official.
Dissent in the Premier League was getting out of control with one shocking example of referee Andy D’Urso being confronted by angry Manchester United players, led by Roy Keane, following the award of a penalty to Middlesbrough. The FA believed this would solve the issue.
It was used solely in English football for four years and it did appear to reduce the amount of abuse officials recieved. We’ve dug out a number of times in which the new rule was put into practise. It would turn a free-kick that was considered too far out to score directly from into a dangerous situation for the defending side.
On This Day 2001 #lufc— LEEDS UNITED MEMORIES (@LUFCHistory) May 19, 2020
Final game of the season and a 3-1 victory over Leicester at Elland Road, including this cracker from Ian Harte, his trademark free kick.#lufc100 @ianharte23 pic.twitter.com/dKhqPpfze8
Classic @PetrCech v Blackburn on our title charge back in 2005. The Blues went 1-0 ahead courtesy of Arjen Robben, but then the hosts were awarded a penalty… 😏#CFCWatchParty pic.twitter.com/Tyc9m3ZIR8— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 30, 2020
Sunderland’s tactics to stop David Beckham’s free-kick
However, it didn’t take long for players to discover a loophole. And the defending team soon found a way to use the rule to their advantage.
“Players are clever and they quickly realised that at times the new rule could be turned to their advantage,” says Jeff Winter, who was one of the Premier League’s top referees at the time.
He remembers a match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford. David Beckham – one of the greatest set piece takers in football history – was lining up a free-kick from 26 yards out. It was the perfect territory for him.
Sunderland had a plan…
“A Sunderland player deliberately broke from the wall before the free-kick was taken, knowing that the referee would move it forward to the edge of the area [the rule stipulated that the edge of the area was the limit of any advancement] and Beckham would have less space to get the ball up over the wall and down again. He didn’t score. Other teams encountered a similar problem. It would have been better if the referee was allowed to give teams the option of accepting the advancement or not.”
Elite sh*thousery from Sunderland.
Interestingly, it was a tactic Sunderland had attempted a couple of seasons earlier and Beckham punished them by smashing the free-kick past the wall and into the back of the net.
Another issue was that referees were only allowed to move the ball forward if they also booked the offending player.
“This amounted to a double penalty and there were times when that seemed excessive so referees applied neither,” Winter added.
What happened to the 10-yard dissent rule?
On social media, many football fans have been left asking the question of whether the rule is still in operation.
FIFA scrapped the plans
After four years of the rule, FIFA scrapped the trial and told the Premier League they wouldn’t be implementing the rule across the board.
“We were just told ‘it’s not happening next season’,” recalls Winter. “It was disappointing not to be given any real explanation nor an opportunity to give feedback as to how it could be improved.”
It was a view shared by then Premier League referees’ chief Keith Hackett.
“It is a disappointing decision because while the law was not used a lot, it did have an impact on the behaviour of players,” said Hackett.
“The referees over here found it acted as a deterrent.
“The problem, as I understand it, is the countries who do not have any familiarity with the concept couldn’t get their heads around the process.”
R.I.P the 10-yard dissent rule…