Hockey has the answer for football… Martin Samuel

by Martin Samuel, Daily Mail
Hockey has the answer for getting football up to speed
In January, hockey introduced a self-pass rule for free hits. Basically, in the event of a foul, when the play restarts (with the equivalent of a free-kick in football), the player does not have to pass to a team-mate but can choose to dribble the ball instead.

The penalised team must not be within five metres when he takes his first touch and off we go. I saw this experiment in action on Sunday and tried to find a reason why it is not used in football: so far, I have none.

I expected the self pass to make the game quicker and therefore more exciting, which it did — and hockey is substantially faster than football already — and I liked the idea of living additional advantage to the injured party.
The third benefit, which I had not considered, was that the self pass improves discipline by making it foolish in the extreme to argue with the referee. If the opposition can just put the ball down and play on, only an idiot would risk being out of position disputing the decision. There truly was no downside.
Unlike Arsene Wenger’s idea to turn throw-ins into kick-ins, here was an idea that improved the game as a spectacle and made it fairer, without altering the way it was played.
The match I watched was Reading versus Beeston, first versus third in the Men’s Premier Division of the England Hockey League, so it was of high quality.
As in football, teams at that level are too well organised to allow players to run with the ball uninterrupted, so the self-pass rule did not unleash a series of mazy dribbles around the pitch. Often a player took a couple of touches and laid it off, as he would in normal play.
What changed was the speed with which a team could get on with the game. When a foul occurred, the ball was placed — it has to be stationary — tapped and the attack began.
The five-metre rule says that an opponent should not be within that distance but, if he is, he cannot play the ball, so there is no question of failing to retreat to delay the restart.
Nobody waited for a whistle to be blown, either. Once the foul had been awarded it was up to the team with the free hit to begin the play and often this happened so quickly there appeared no break in the action.
Football could learn a lot from hockey, not least from the traffic light system of awarding cards.
Green cards are a warning; two green cards make a yellow card and a minimum of five minutes in the sin bin; a player can receive two yellow cards for different offences but the second sin bin punishment is substantially longer; two yellow cards for the same offence make a red card, expulsion from the game and a lengthy ban.
One umpire told me: ‘If I show a yellow card, your team won’t see you for a few minutes; if I show a red card they won’t see you for a few months.’
By having more wriggle room, hockey umpires can use more discretion than football referees. It is ludicrous that in football an ill-judged goal celebration carries the same penalty as a potentially leg-breaking tackle.
Strange, too, that football seems so resistant to change. Hockey’s self pass looked an excellent concept: sadly, all football innovations are money motivated.