It is often said that footballers are role models for our children. Possibly so, though personally I would like to see this situation reversed. I think the game would be greatly improved if instead of children copying the players, the players copied children. Because I can’t help feeling that football needs to return to the exuberance and innocence of its spiritually home – the field round the back of the housing estate. Some may feel an increase in childishness would result in a breakdown in discipline. Not a bit of it. I don’t think, for example, that we would have half as much arguing over decisions if the ultimate power of arbitration was taken out of the hands of referees and given instead to The Big Tough Lad Whose Brother Is In Borstal.
To take football back to its roots will require radical action, but I feel that if Sepp Blatter and his Fifa henchman could get the following proposals in place in time for the qualifying rounds of the next World Cup we would all feel the benefits.
First of all the pitch. Goalposts, naturally, must be replaced with jumpers, anoraks and the paperboys' satchels and at least one bottle of fizzy pop which will be sent cartwheeling by a powerful shot and explode. The exact position of the “bar” will be determined by a long argument between the goalkeeper (“It went about a foot over me hands and I was jumping this high”) and the player claiming the goal (“No you weren’t. You were leaning backwards and your elbows were bent”) and eventually resolved by a wrestling match (One fall or submission to determine the winner. No kicking, gouging or pulling down your opponent’s shorts to reveal his underpants to passing girls).
One touchline should be clearly demarcated by a wall, fence or line of parked cars while the other should lie at a point so far away none of the players can be bothered to run after the ball once it has gone beyond it.
To spice things up still further at random moments during the game the dimensions of the pitch should be suddenly altered when: a game featuring younger players starts up in one corner; a gang of youths on bicycles turn up to practice skids and experiment with cigarettes and spitting; an elderly couple in a spotless Ford Mondeo set up a picnic table and chairs near the half-way line and declare that “If that ball comes anywhere near our cups you lot are for the high jump”.
The game will last from “after lunch” until “tea-time” a duration calculated by having a traditional British grandmother boil a cabbage until it is cooked to her satisfaction – roughly four and half hours. Half-time will occur when the two biggest lads are thirsty and will last as long as it takes for the puniest player to go to the shop and bring pack crisps, pop and a selection of flying saucers, liquorice laces and some of that sherbet that turns your tongue blue.
The game will end when the cabbage has reached the consistency of pond slime and the granny appears at the edge of the playing surface yelling, “Your tea’s on the table. Come in this minute. I don’t care if you are 3-2 down and just about to take a penalty. Your granadad didn’t die in two World Wars so you could let good food go to waste. And stop that chuntering or I’ll have the FA suspend you for a fortnight”.
In keeping with widespread playing field practice I would also like to see Fifa introduce new rankings that mimic the popular “You get two of the little kids and we’ll have our Gary” system. Under these rankings an established star like Ronaldo will be the equivalent of 1.5 members of an international U-21s squad or a dozen U-12s. This will lead to greater tactical flexibility for coaches as they weigh up the possibilities of selecting the best available players and using a 4-4-2 system or opting instead to give youth a chance in a 12-12-28 formation. It will also allow good players to show off a bit more by dribbling round whole teams of little ‘uns, sometimes while doing a silly walk, or using only their weaker foot.
It would create some compelling matches too. Who would not be fascinated to see how the current Germany side's attacking verve coped with the packed defence of an Italian team made up of the entire primary school aged population of Naples.
Team selection duties will not stop there. The coach will also be expected to designate one team member who will play the entire match wearing wellies and another who is not allowed to get dirty because “We’re going to my aunt's house after and my Mam says if I’ve got any grass stains on these trousers she’ll bray me”.
As for discipline, I would institute a series of humiliating childish punishments for any offender. Clearly red and yellow cards no longer work, but I can't imagine any player would be quite so quick to show dissent if doing so meant spending the next four games acting as a goalpost (and no moving or you'll get a deadleg).