Minor amendments to the substitution law are about the only Law changes we are likely to see next season, according to the agenda of the International Football Association Board’s Annual General Meeting, which takes place in Belfast at the end of the month. The games law makers will be asked to make two decisions. The first proposal is that when a game goes to extra time, teams should be able to bring on a fourth substitute. This will almost certainly be passed as it was proposed by FIFA who have fifty per cent of the votes.
The other proposal affects local leagues. Some, like the Thames Valley League (the old Reading League), have been taking part in a nation wide trial of the proposal for the last two seasons. It will only apply to what the Board calls grassroots or recreational football, in other words the lower rungs of the game. This proposal is to allow returnable substitutes. The Law states that once a player has been substituted, he cannot take any more part in the game. With returnable substitutes, substituted players can return to the play again later. This has been allowed in youth football for some time. The proposal has come from the FA, which is concerned about falling numbers of eleven-a-side adult games in this country. It feels it will encourage more people to take part. If passed, it will be up to each country, whether to adopt it or not. We could finish up with it only being used in England.
Substitutions are basically simple but I received a newspaper cutting from David Downs, Reading FC historian, about a substitution that went wrong. Notts County player, Kwame Thomas was substituted in their game against Doncaster but dawdled in leaving the field of play. Players are often reluctant to leave when substituted and referees have to urge them to hurry up. Generally, this doesn’t matter too much, because the referee should stop his watch for substitutions, so no real time is lost. However, in this case it must have been excessive, for the referee showed Thomas the yellow card, which he was quite correct in doing. The Laws of the Game, gives a list of cautionable examples for delaying the restart of play, and one is ‘delaying leaving the field of play when being substituted’.
There is another twist to this tale however. After Thomas had sat down in the dug out, the referee, perhaps prompted by his fourth official, realised that he had already shown him a yellow card earlier in the match. He therefore went over to the dug-out and showed Thomas the red card for two cautionable offences. The substitute, Billy Daniels, who by this time was on the pitch, had to go back off, as a player who has been sent off cannot be substituted. This not only meant that Daniels was denied appearance money (which I didn’t know players received) but Notts County had to play the remainder of the game with only ten men.
One question remains unanswered. What if the referee had not remembered until after he had restarted the game? Could he have gone back and shown the red card or would Billy Daniels have got his appearance money? This isn’t actually covered in the Laws of the Game but when a referee forgot a couple of years ago to issue a red after two yellow’s, I asked Neal Barry, who is the FA’s representative on the Technical Committee of the International FA Board for a ruling. He felt it should follow that part of the Laws that says a referee cannot change his mind once play has restarted. However, he told me that the other members were divided on this answer. Perhaps it’s a topic for the Board to consider at another year’s AGM.