Some of the clubs competing in the Reading Football League are taking part in a national experiment with substitutions. At the last general meeting of the International FA Board, who are guardians of the Laws, the FA obtained agreement for a two year trial, to ease the law on substitution for clubs in the lower rungs of the game in England. At the moment Law 3, permits three substitutes to play and it says quite categorically, ‘The substituted player takes no further part in the match’. For the trial period however that clause will no longer apply, and player who has been substituted will be allowed to come back on later in the game. This is something that has been permitted for many years in youth football, which is allowed modifications to certain aspects of the Laws. It is often mistakenly called ‘roll-on, roll-off subs’, but the correct term of ‘repeatable’ substitutions give a more accurate description of what is involved. Although a player who has been substituted may return to the game, all the other substitution procedures still apply. In other words, the referee must be informed first, it can only take place at a stoppage, the player/substitute must come on at the half way line. He must wait for the referee’s signal and for the player going off to leave the field of play. This possible frequent change of players/substitutes could be a nightmare for the referee if he doesn’t insists that the correct procedure is followed.
This a nationwide experiment but it is not taking place in all local Reading football. For example it is not happening in the Reading Sunday League, which has some reservations about the scheme. They are concerned that it could create an unfair situation where some clubs have a larger playing squad and can make use of repeatable subs to their advantage, whilst some other clubs struggle to put out more than a full side. It will not happen in the Reading Cup competitions although clubs playing in the Berks & Bucks County Cups will be able to use repeatable substitutes. For the Reading Football League on Saturdays it is a mixed bag. Repeatable substitutes will only be permitted from Division one to Division four. The Senior and Premier Divisions are now in what is known as the football pyramid where clubs can get promoted through the levels, providing their grounds and facilities meet the requirements. We have seen in the last few years for example clubs like Highmoor/Ibis and Woodley Town make their way into the Hellenic League which is on the next level.
So why has the FA asked for permission to allow repeatable substitutes in local football? It is because they are concerned about the decline in adult 11-a-side football. Although youth football has been very buoyant, the number of teams at adult level has declined dramatically all over the country, with some long established competitions collapsing completely. The FA feels that by allowing repeatable substitutes at this level, not only will it encourage more people to play the game, but will also retain many who play at present. Of course there are detractors, who feel that the real reasons for the decline are poor playing and changing facilities, bad behaviour by players/spectators and changing lifestyles and this doesn’t address these issues. It is as I say, a two year trial and we may see more competitions involved next year but in the meantime the competitions, clubs and referees taking part, have to report their findings. The competitions in particular have to keep an up-to-date data base and report numbers of registered players and teams at start, end and mid-season for each of the two years. The International FA Board will want to see strong evidence that this project will grow the number of players and teams before implementing any permanent change.