20 September ~ When Martin Skrtel received a second yellow card during Liverpool's 4-0 pounding at Tottenham on Sunday, his captain Jamie Carragher tried to prevent Skrtel from leaving the pitch, and then indicated to the Liverpool bench that they should make a substitution. Unkind observers might have asked what in the name of God Carragher thought he was doing. Did he really think they could sub Skrtel out before he'd left the field, even though he'd already been sent off? Whatever he was thinking (or not), the Liverpool captain may have inadvertently been looking ahead to the game's next point of progress in the era of Football As Business And Entertainment.
Whenever I play any kind of game with my youngest daughter, she has the habit of changing the rules as soon as she starts to lose. Why not allow football players to do the same thing? So, Jamie Carragher can suddenly say to the ref: "New rule, if we sub Skrtel before he leaves the field, we get to stay at ten men and the red card doesn't count." A sub then rushes off the Liverpool bench and tags Skrtel before he's off down the tunnel. But, if an opponent tags Skrtel before the substitute does, the red card counts after all. What could be more entertaining than a quick game of chase during a stop in play?
Look, the laws of the game are in any case arbitrary. They've evolved down the decades at the whim of blazered functionaries. Outside of the football pitch, they mean nothing. They are not enshrined in any country's constitution, and they wouldn't hold up in a court of law. If we played football according to spontaneous laws, I guarantee you that interest would soar, and the game would become far less predictable. Just allow any team three law changes per game, applicable for five minutes. So, in the course of a sterile 0-0 draw, a player could yell out, "New rule, handball's allowed!" Or, "Shirt-pulling in the penalty area allowed with impunity!" Oh hang on, that's already OK, isn't it?
In these media-powered times, results are no longer important, because what we all yearn for are talking points. Imagine the extra post-match discourse if journalists had to analyse what effect five minutes of trying to pull down an opposition player's shorts had had on the game. Think of the extra excuses that managers would be able to serve up to help them keep their jobs. "I reckon we'd have taken all three points today if the other team hadn't changed the rules and made us hop around on one leg. Obviously the lads'll be practising one-legged football on the training ground first thing Monday to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Improvised laws would become a proving ground for creative ideas. Punt-ins instead of throw-ins. No offside. Both teams play seven men only. A random fan of each team selected from the crowd to see if they can do better than the players they've been screaming at all afternoon. Automatic red card for any player taking part in a rehearsed goal celebration. Two subs allowed to rush on to the pitch and pin the opposing goalkeeper down, if they can catch him. No ball, just a massive ruck (already tried successfully by Real Madrid and Barcelona). Ref has to wear an amusing face mask. If a manager dances around like an idiot when his team scores, the goal's disallowed. The possibilities are infinite.
You may scoff, but one day history will view Jamie Carragher as man who made a worthwhile contribution to football. Ian Plenderleith