With the evolution of technology, football has grown in size and stature. What was once a national game viewed by those only in attendance is now on every television screen, in every household, and on everyone’s lips. Football has (temporarily) stopped a World War, football has given people meaning, and football has given us identity. It has created communities, given people jobs, and provided us with entertainment and enjoyment. It’s the game we have grown up with, fallen in love with, and it has stirred up emotions that not many other walks of life can muster.
Can Football Restore Its Reputation?
It began so modestly. The first rules were created at the University of Cambridge in 1848 and the game slowly spread across England with regional variations. In 1863 at the Freemason’s Tavern, Covent Garden, the Football Association (FA) was formed. From there English football obtained a structure and in 1867 the first off-side rule was created. In this same year the first competition was created, the Youdan Cup. The FA Cup was formed in 1872 and heralded the beginning of football as we know it, with all clubs in England adopting a universal set of rules. The first international game between Scotland and England also took place in 1872. However it was not until 1888 that the first league structure was established. Sixteen years on, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was founded in Paris as there grew a need for a single body to oversee the worldwide game. And thus football’s quiet revolution cemented itself in global society.
The current state of football portrays a sport in transition. Played by over 240 million people in over 200 countries, football has the capacity to change the world, yet with FIFA is disarray, UEFA soon to lose its leader, and the FA looking to establish England as a footballing superpower again, the sport finds itself in limbo and with little direction. However this is an opportunity to further itself.
Corruption has not just been a problem at FIFA. Whether it’s bribery and “bunging” allegations in England; match-fixing in China, South Africa, Italy, Spain, and Portugal; players being illegally “tapped-up” in Spain and Britain; or organised crime in Turkey, football’s reputation has been dragged through the mire in recent years. But it doesn’t stop there.
Discrimination has also tarnished the great game. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia are to name but a few challenges faced by domestic and international authorities. Yet is it not to be expected when football is the global game, played and supported by all walks of life? Sadly many think football organisations need to take more responsibility and many think football should shoulder the blame. This is to misunderstand sport at its very core. We, as social beings, created sport for entertainment. We, as individuals, took it upon ourselves to set rules. We, as humans, made sport international. Sport can also be substituted for society and government. Thus we should all take responsibility for the failings of football fans, players, and backroom staff. You are not exempt if you dislike football or sport as a whole.
Yet I digress.
The purpose of this article so far has been to set the scene for what I believe needs to be done to improve football’s status in global society, as well as how to combat common issues that plague our beautiful game around the world, such as diving and disrespect.
Italy was so, so, so nearly on the ball with the green card. However, as with most things, it shows little true insight into understanding human behaviour and psychology. To explain what I mean let’s look at (field) hockey. This sport, like Italian football, uses a red, yellow, and green card. All three are ‘awarded’ to players when acting inappropriately but are graded according to the level of offence. A red is, like most sports, given for the worst offences and sees a player permanently removed from the pitch for the remainder of the match. A yellow is a minimum five minute suspension (10 minutes in Rugby League and Union). Whilst a green is a fixed two minute suspension. In the past, the green card could be awarded to the team as a whole to indicate that no other offences of that nature can be repeated, whilst a green card awarded to individuals ensured they were aware of their inappropriate behaviour. The way in which hockey umpires are able to control the behaviour of players should act as a model for football. Disrespect and verbal abuse is not tolerated and sets a good example to supporters. The “sin-bin” in both codes of rugby also demonstrates an official’s ability to penalise players whilst ensuring the match is not hindered dearly. Opponents of these rules will argue that football players will exploit the system but again you only need to ask yourself, why are footballers so different to other sportsmen to see the true benefits of incorporating other cards into football.
Finally, technology needs to be utilised further. As much as it has shaped our great game, technology is still seen as a danger to the integrity of football. Traditionalists argue that football needs human error as much as it needs a goal. However this is narrow-minded. Football will develop and improve as a result of retrospective punishments for cheaters and incorrect decisions. The use of goal-line technology is hopefully a sign of things to come and technology can enhance, rather than sterilise the game by improving our interaction with players and coaches. In addition to our understanding of what makes players perform at the highest level, technology will raise the entertainment levels as the game raises its quality.
I understand that these views may be controversial but I hope that this article has at least provided you with food for thought. Because standing still and accepting that, as fans, we can’t change the game, is almost as fatal to football as Sepp Blatter remaining in charge of FIFA for another term.