1 February ~ The Premier League’s decision to fine Blackpool £25,000 for fielding a “weakened” side against Aston Villa met with a mixed reaction when it was announced last week. While the media scrum concentrated on the immediate future of manager Ian Holloway and his threat to resign, most of their readers – although sympathetic – simply shrugged their shoulders and wondered whether anybody really expected a different outcome. After all, Mick McCarthy and Wolves were given a suspended fine of the same amount for a similar misdemeanour last season.

However, one wonders what would have happened if Villa’s James Collins hadn’t scored a last-minute winner. After all, it would have been extremely difficult to fine a team that avoided defeat. But having set such a dangerous precedent the Premier League would have been hard-pressed to explain why they have a rule that appears so arbitrary.

They are not the only ones. The Football League and the FA have also fined clubs in the past for fielding weakened teams – but only when the team in question have lost. Back in 1999, Millwall managers Keith Stevens and Alan McLeary ran the same risk Holloway did when they took the decision to make 11 changes when their side were set to play a league fixture against Colchester United four days before they were due to face Wigan Athletic in the final of the Auto Windscreens Shield.

The pair handed full debuts to two youth team players and recalled several reserves for what proved to be their only starts of the season. If that wasn’t enough, they named three youngsters on the subs’ bench too – one of whom, Mark Hicks, would go on to make his only League appearance of his career.

Yet despite facing a full strength U’s side, the home team ran out 2-0 winners thanks to a brace from Kim Grant and the Football League, who had representatives in what proved to be one of the club’s lowest ever attendances at the New Den, decided it would not be in the “best interests of the game” to fine club. But by the letter of the law Stevens and McLeary had fielded an under-strength side and should have been punished accordingly. Which begs the question who actually decides what is and what isn’t a weak side?

The Wolves side that 3-0 lost to Manchester United back in 2009 featured five internationals. What’s more Stoke City, Bolton Wanderers, Hull City, West Ham and Wigan Athletic all lost by greater margins during the course of the same season (Wigan managed to do it twice). Even AC Milan came away from Old Trafford at the wrong end of a 4-0 thumping. Yet despite getting the better result, the Midlands club picked up a fine for their troubles, albeit suspended.

It’s hard not to agree with Alex Ferguson’s assessment: “You are allowed to have 25 players. They ask you to name them. They don't ask you to name your 11 and 14 substitutes.” So if ever there was a law that was a bit of an ass, it’s this one. Neil Andrews

Comments (15)
Comment by mistrollingin 2011-02-01 12:35:30

I don't like to agree with Ferguson but he is spot on. Now that there is a 25 man squad that is registered the combination of players used from that squad should be entirely up to the manager concerned, anything else is ridiculous.
It is a crazy rule anyway as one set of 11 may be the strongest team against one opposition but a different set against another, but with a named 25 man squad it is even more redundant.

Comment by Mr Beast 2011-02-01 14:01:27

It should be up to him, but why Holloway felt the need to rest players against Villa is beyond me. They were there for the taking and the 3 points he could have had will haunt him at the end of the season.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-02-01 14:01:27

Man Utd would know after their game against Hull when they rested several "first team" players, but they won so it is fine.

This rule should be renamed "to stop Warnock whinging like a girl after a team play Fulham nearing the end of the season and they have a big champion's league game to get ready for". Not very snappy but helps explain why it exists.

Comment by Glass Half Empty 2011-02-01 16:44:53

Liverpool's team that lost to Fulham was almost entirely made up of reserves and the 3 points Fulham gained saved them from relegation at Sheffield United's expense - to describe Warnock's reaction in such sexist terms hardly does it justice Lincoln, he was properly mad, and quite rightly - Liverpool were taking the piss.

Comment by jameswba 2011-02-01 17:48:59

'the 3 points Fulham gained saved them from relegation at Sheffield United's expense'

A bit of selective memory there, I think. I'm sure I have a recollection that Sheffield United would have stayed up anyway and sent Wigan down if they'd beaten the Latics at home on the final day.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-02-01 17:54:21

Is it sexist? I didn't say woman, it was more a reference to the age.

As for Warnock, he should try playing a full stregth team against Swansea in the cup in the before giving lectures on how a manager should pick a team. Just to recap though, Reina and Alonso have how many world cup medals between them? Arbeloa plays for which team currently? I could go on as 11 of the 14 players used are internationals with their team. At the end of the day Sheffield United went down because they didn't beat Wigan at home. Actually sorry, they legally went down because West Ham used Tevez. Nothing like taking responsibility for your own actions.

Comment by ipswichblade 2011-02-01 17:57:00

It was generally agreed at the time that Fulham had the most difficult run in however that was before Liverpool turned up with Gerrard's Grandma and Carragher's Aunty Edith in the team.

Comment by Glass Half Empty 2011-02-01 20:21:05

The Wigan point is of course correct as far as it goes but the reality of a league of course is that a team's final league position is a result of all the games played throughout the season not just the last one, so not really selective memory at all.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-02-01 20:58:17

Well it is a bit because you are saying the because Fulham got those three points they stayed up (and not because they are good but because Liverpool rolled over for them apparently), so you are just looking at one game. Strange how the strike force you faced was exactly the same as the one Fulham faced, but guess I just have selective memory...

Comment by Darren 2011-02-01 23:46:46

I seem to remember Liverpool around 1990 or 1991 fielding a reserve team against Man City and drawing 2-2. Dont know why they left out their best players, but they ended up being fined for it.

Comment by madmickyf 2011-02-02 03:44:09

I'm not surprised Millwall got away with it, the FA are sh*t scared of them. Their punishment for smashing up Kenilworth Road in 1985 - a 5,000 pound fine, overturned on appeal. They're probably petrified that a mob of tattooed dockers will turn up at Soho Square and smash the place up!

Comment by potts4 2011-02-02 09:42:10

If memory serves me correct, Warnock set the trend rolling by fielding a weakened side for United's trip to Manchester United just weeks earlier. I think he needed to look on his own doorstep before accusing other teams.

What goes around comes around and all that.

Comment by Efficient Baxter 2011-02-02 12:50:45

The same Fulham/Sheff United season also saw Man United field a weakened side against West Ham on the last day of the season, with a Tevez goal keeping the Hammers up in a one-nil win. However Man U's 'weakened' team absolutely battered West Ham that day. How they got the win they needed, I'll never know.

Comment by jameswba 2011-02-02 15:20:22

The Tevez business had me hoping West Ham would get relegated. Like, I imagine, many neutrals, I was hoping Sheffield Utd would stay up but neither Tevez nor supposed dubious practices by Liverpool alters the fact that they had survival in their own hands and they bottled it.

As the author says, the 25-man squad ruling ought to have done away with the notion of 'weaker' sides. I would add that any team that does rest first-choice players, as Wolves did at Man Utd, should make sure they do what Wolves also did and win the, supposedly more important, next game. Don't do what managerial genius Bryan Robson did with WBA in 2005/2006. After an encouraging start to the season, he made wholesale changes for a match at Chelsea with a view to a game three days later at home to Birmingham. Albion were hammered at Stamford Bridge then lost ineptly to Birmingham. The season, of course (this is WBA), ended in relegation.

Comment by FootballFarrago 2011-02-08 14:20:59

I've written a similar article on Blackpool's £25k fine:

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