As soon as you have finished thinking about such a sentence, formulating it and, maddeningly, putting it down on (virtual) paper, the following thoughts flash through your mind: I know what the reader who has strayed here will do now: He doesn’t even have to laugh, the request is so ridiculous. He takes the piece of paper, the book, tears it up and regrets that there are no more stove heaters, so he has to go to the recycling bin. That was in the past. Today, on the other hand, people click on the “Delete” or “Delete” button and don’t worry about the environment.
The reason for this behaviour can be quickly identified: if you’re not a football fan, you don’t read anyway. Football is evil. You have good reasons and are usually proud of it. But if you are a football fan, you have even better reasons to do so, because on the one hand you already know everything about it, and that really applies to every fan, and on the other hand you know that everything you haven’t heard or known about it has already been discussed, thought through, debated and — discarded by Beckenbauer, Platini, Cruyff and Pele.
So now I am lying as a crumpled piece of paper in a wastepaper basket and yet I am cheering up. I claim: a) football must be made more attractive, b) numerous officials have long since recognised this, so I’m preaching to the choir, c) it can be made more attractive and d) the necessary means are relatively simple.
Of course, the media play a very central role in this. They have the power, they can set the topics of discussion, they can sell football as “boring” or “dramatic”, they can demonise this referee for a recognised goal or single out that referee for a “courageous decision” in the form of a sending-off or a given penalty. They can expose the swallow kings, they can describe the manner in which a victory was achieved as “no one will ask about that in three weeks” or as “disgraceful” – and thus, in a way, direct popular opinion. Before this part is explained in more detail, a few questions must first be raised, then worked through. These are then the first smaller boulders which one has to clear out of the way as a crumpled piece of paper:
1) What should one imagine by “more attractive”?
2) Why should it be made more attractive?
3) What should be changed?
4) How should it be implemented?
Pros and cons, with all reflected objections and concerns.
Re 1) What should one imagine by “more attractive”?
Attractive generally means interesting, exciting, captivating, fascinating, passionate, emotional, dramatic for viewers. A principled objection is always: It already is. And who knows what any change would bring? Perhaps it would reduce the appeal? The fan wants football exactly as it is!
So first to
2) Why should it be made more attractive?
Here a few points are clear and obvious: there is absolutely nothing against attractiveness and it is also propagated by the greats of the sport and those responsible for the sport. They are also looking for ways to change something in this direction, excitement, attractiveness. But there is always the same objection: it has been sooooo successful for decades. Why change, why intervene? Quote Beckenbauer: “Leave the footboi as it is.” That’s how it was, that’s how it is and that’s how it will stay. The objection : if you don’t try, you will never know the effects of change.
Another claim : unfairness is undesirable, more fair play and sportsmanship would contribute to attractiveness. There are very well the counter-arguments: Football has always been an emotional sport. As a spectator, you want to be able to get excited, it is a welcome change from everyday life for the fan at the weekend. This includes emotions that are experienced and acted out, which do not only consist of joy and enthusiasm, sadness or disappointment, but which also include aggression.
This can be countered by saying: the aggressions can well be left out. Not only do they always make for unpleasant headlines, even with murder and manslaughter, they also ensure a decrease in attractiveness for the civilised fan. Quote: “You want me to go to the stadium? You can’t get me there anymore. Too many chaotic people there.” The atmosphere is so spoiled by the aggression that numerous fans have to be dispensed with as a result.
Another assertion at this point : the number of goals is too low. This has causes, a rationale and consequences. The counter-arguments are well known, including those against the number of goals. In any case, the pro side is that the official side is also looking for ways and means to achieve this. Against is: a) it has always been like this. b) football is a game with few goals. c) the moment, the jubilation of the one single impact is so much heightened by the low frequency that all previous suffering, hoping and fearing is outweighed. If the goals were to fall all the time, the value of a single goal would be so low that one would no longer cheer at all. If you want to see goals, go to ice hockey, handball or basketball.
a) almost only games in which there were many goals remain memorable. A 0:0, a 1:0, a 1:1 are soon forgotten. A 4:3 can provide real drama through the course of the game. One player leads, the other is later behind, but still wins. Pure drama, suspense, fascination, memorable. Germany – Italy 1970. Match of the century.
b) Watching an attack or a game scene is almost pointless. You actually know beforehand that it will not lead to a goal. The chance of an attack becoming a goal is about 1:100. You might enjoy a great pass, a successful tackle, a well-placed shot, a fantastic save, but in the end “nothing countable comes out of it.” The frequency of goals is so low that it is not sufficiently worthwhile to follow any action. It’s about the goals, not red or yellow cards, not corner kicks or free kicks, crosses or toe kicks. It’s all about goals. And they just don’t come. However, the argument – and this is where it gets really tricky – does not apply to the real fan of a team, because this fan is capable of suffering. He endures many, many failed attacks, he is happy when the opponent is prevented from scoring, he is even happy when his team substitutes a player in the last minute to keep the score at 1-0.
No, the objection is directed at the neutral spectator. They want to see successful actions, they want to see guaranteed goals. In the imagination, the neutral fan might even be in the majority one day. Everyone wants to see football. There are goals, there is spectacle. At a frequency that is fascinating for everyone, so that it is worth constantly looking at the pitch. Not only that it’s worth it, but even that you can’t help it. Utopia? You won’t find out unless you try.
The USA had won the hosting of the 1994 World Cup. When the time came, they had only one goal in terms of the rules and their interpretation: more goals must be scored. FIFA ponderously agreed to a few tiny modifications. But the result was not that these modifications worked. The players on the pitch have understood that they have a spectacle to offer the world here in the USA. They are very fortunate to be the centre of attention on the world stage of football. And they have understood: The goal of the game is to captivate the spectator. And this goal is congruent with the goal, defined by rule, of achieving something countable: To score a goal. When you have one, the goal remains to score another. And not to “get the 1:0 over time.” The spectator carries the whole thing with his stadium attendance, with his choice of television programme. The spectator is the one whose entertainment must be provided. In the USA in 1994, everyone took this to heart. The result was a fantastic World Cup with many goals. To prove it, there are always a lot of neutral viewers at all the games, especially at a World Cup.
I think it has not only been sufficiently discussed why it should be made more attractive, but also that the problem is known from the official side and has long been addressed. It’s just that the methods available and discovered so far don’t seem to be sufficient. A goal average over the last 15 years (according to my database, which has been maintained for 20 years) of 2.6 goals/game seems to me too low to generate excitement. The question under this point was “why should it be made more attractive?” but that also implies the assumption that something about the status quo is unattractive that could be tweaked. In this respect, I would like to illustrate this with an example:
2.6 goals per game roughly means that you have to wait 34 minutes for a goal. On the one hand, this means that a form of suspense is permanently ensured in a way, since the outcome of the game is unknown and “open” in the sense that it is usually either 0:0, 1:0, 0:1 or 1:1. These are snapshots from a normal football match. The outcome is open because the goal difference between the teams is so small that it can be overcome by a goal at any time. In other words: almost every falling goal changes the tendency, from X to 1 or 2, from 1 or 2 to X. Only with a 2:0 is this not the case. If there were more goals, it might soon be 3:0, 4:0 and the tension would be out of the game. These are the arguments against more goals.
I counter this by saying that if you have to wait an average of 34 minutes, then a 1:0 in the 60th minute already seems like a kind of decision, it feels like it. The outcome is somehow kept open by the few goals, but on the other hand it is difficult to feel that way. Your own team concedes 0:1. If there were more goals, you might still think, feel, “Now it’s getting exciting.” With so few goals at the moment, it’s hard to avoid the feeling, “That’s it.” And then think of a 2:0 or 0:2! That’s when people like to talk about a preliminary decision. The feeling that you can still catch up or even turn the game around is hard to create or maintain. You don’t watch it any more. The fan might, but the neutral viewer switches off. The mind, the television or the tension.
I even claim that with higher scores, and that includes not only 2:2, 3:3 or even 3:4, but also a 5:1 or 5:0, the tension is always higher than with a bland 0:0. With the 0:0, you also often enough hear the comment: “The game lives from the tension.” This means that it is actually boring, that the only moment of suspense comes from the fact that the outcome has not yet been determined and that it is not the game scenes that fascinate. The worry of conceding the goal also increases as the game goes on, because the players on the pitch feel, “One goal against and that’s it.” So nothing more is risked. But if there have already been goals – whether mainly for one side or well distributed – everyone likes to watch. You then know that there can be more goals, you also know and feel that a single goal does not bring the decision and you can indulge in what ultimately makes football so interesting: goal actions, goals. The famous salt in the soup. I have watched numerous games and also the reactions of the fans. And it was certainly not noticeable that the tension decreased when the scores were high. Quite the opposite. Another proof: more goals are needed.
Conclusion: With the few goals, one way to keep the tension open as long as possible, because there are rarely high goal margins. With more goals, there is always suspense for a certain type – and this is certainly not less attractive than the other – and thus attractiveness, spectator interest.
So now I come to the point
3) What should be changed?
Actually, it is very simple. Without hesitation, I agree with Franz Beckenbauer: “Leave the footboi as it is…”. Only I add a subordinate clause: “… and apply the existing rules.” This simple-sounding demand will certainly cause further rebellion. For, of course, the rules are applied, aren’t they? Well, it is precisely here that I have my doubts. Not only can I justify them very well, but through careful consideration I have come up with a technique of proof. However, it is also worthwhile here to investigate the causes. So where do we start?
Therefore, I make a subdivision here and put them in this order, first in overview:
a. Examples from everyday football life
b. Causal research
c. Evidence technique
… and now in detail.
to a. Examples from everyday football
There are a number of examples which can be predicted and found in the game practically without watching the game. In this section I will present only three of these obvious inconsistencies, which everyone should know – and which are thus sufficient to reveal the basic principle of the observations.
i. Give the attacker the benefit of the doubt in offside decisions
The above example from the World Cup in the USA, inspired by the organisers, resulted in only a few tiny rule modifications. But at least they managed to include a very central requirement in the rules. This already reveals what a central requirement should be: If there is a hint of doubt, the assistant should keep the flag down. And that there is sufficient doubt at today’s game speed becomes clear at the latest from the slow motion shown afterwards (in live or recorded games). The counter-movement of attackers and defenders, the attempt of the attackers to gain the razor-thin advantage in order to successfully score a goal and thus always lurking on the edge waiting for the decisive pass are all elements that are basically undetectable to the human eye. In this respect, the rule entry makes perfect sense.
One assertion of mine is, and I believe the reader will agree unreservedly if he observes it carefully: There is a situation in almost every game in which offside is ruled and it turns out afterwards that it was not offside. There are certainly also several scenes in which one can clearly speak of a “matter of interpretation”. For despite the freeze frame, the moment when the ball leaves the foot cannot be clearly determined and the body parts responsible for the offside can hardly be defined in a firm and unambiguous manner. The assistant would have the chance to decide to “play on” without much concern and would probably have no problems.
The fact is that there are several dubious decisions per game. It is also a fact that the majority of demonstrably wrong decisions are to the disadvantage of the attackers. So you will have to look for a while to find a situation in which play was demonstrably wrongly continued, a clear offside was not recognised. The ratio of wrong decisions after observation: 1:10. One in favour of the attackers, 10 against. And this, of all things, in a rule in which the assistants were deliberately and intentionally given leeway. “If there is any doubt, keep the flag down.” So even in a subsequent interview, the “offender” would have the opportunity to insist on correct rule interpretation and application without having his head ripped off.
Now the media come into play. Their role should be, on the one hand, to ensure balance and justice and, on the other hand, to create excitement and attractiveness. Now it is quite obvious that a goal that is wrongly recognised makes big waves in the media. A goal that can be clearly proven to be offside is the referee’s undoing. The referee is labelled a “tomato referee”, and the “disadvantaged” team also labels the referee “who blew the whistle on us”.
On the other hand, there are 10 situations in a game – and that is not even rare – in which the referee could well have let the game go on, and in three of them he even had to, which hardly deserve a mention in today’s media opinion. They become a marginal note. A coach who should rightly point to a “correct goal that was not recognised” is portrayed as a bad loser who always looks for the others to blame instead of finally admitting that his team was simply bad.
For me, this is where the demand is clearest. Leave football as it is? Yes, with pleasure. Apply the written rules, exactly.
ii. Penalty for foul play in the penalty area
There should be a penalty for foul play in the penalty area according to the rule. In my view, there is sufficient doubt that this rule is applied. Of course, the decision “foul or not foul” is a matter of interpretation in many cases, so there is no absolute “right” or “wrong”. However, I think that one can observe a few quite obvious things, which should become clearer both in the technique of proof and in the research of causes. Here just so much:
Certainly one could make a statistic, just as with offside (mis)decisions, which makes it clear here that there is a blatant disproportion to the disadvantage of the attackers. There are many games in which you hear/read, not only in the live or subsequent commentary, but also in the print media: “There should have been a penalty kick. The referee probably saw it differently” or even “he turned a blind eye here”, “the defenders were lucky there was no penalty” or similar. These minor errors are handled very generously and the referee is hardly held responsible. The reverse case of a penalty due to a swallow can still cause discussion 10 years later (the Möller swallow!).
In addition, however, there are a few expressions invented by the media which a) take the burden off the referees and b) express quite clearly what one feels about it and in this way show just as clearly that the observation is basically – and still without judgement – correct. These formulations read like this: There is talk of “foul play not ready for a penalty” or of “that is not enough for a penalty”. Obviously, the processing of these situations has long since become second nature, without proper reflection. It seems to be recognised, however, that a “foul not ready for a penalty kick” is a foul play? There is no passage in the rule that says that foul situations are to be treated differently in the penalty area. It was a foul. The rule provides for a penalty kick for that. In practice, there is no penalty. Why? More on this later.
I would like to mention the possible consequences here. It is a common saying that “you can’t give a penalty for something like that” with the further conclusion “… otherwise there would be 10 or 20 penalties per game.” Here I vigorously disagree. The defenders would learn very quickly how to behave and how not to behave. Among other things, you must not foul in the penalty area. You would gain the knowledge that you do more harm than good with the foul – which is generally taken into account by the “clever” professional in all behaviour on the pitch – and hold back accordingly. The consequence would not be more penalties – which would not cause any damage per se and would not be the problem, it would simply be that way – but more exciting scenes of play, because the strikers would be able to assert themselves much more often in duels. More goal scenes – more goals. How awful!
iii. For handball in the penalty area – penalty kick
It is no different with handball in the penalty area. It just took a while for the players to realise that in principle you can have your hands everywhere. If the ball flies against it, it was surely “no conscious movement towards the ball”, so play on. It doesn’t matter whether, or no, even better from the defender’s point of view, if you have prevented a huge chance or even a goal by doing so. The standard decision is to play on. There have been such a high number of handball cases in the penalty area lately – especially on crosses into which the defender turns and sticks his arm out briefly — all of which have been “generously overlooked”. The media react just as calmly: “Yes, there probably should have been a penalty, but…”. No further criticism. But woe betide if there is a penalty that leaves a little doubt as to its justification.
In my youth I had learned that you should keep your arms close to your body, especially in the penalty area. Because the unpleasant consequence of handball – which inevitably happens if the arm leaves the body and the ball goes against it – would be a penalty. I don’t know what could have been the reason for changing this so simple rule and talking about “conscious movements towards the ball”? Maybe they thought, “Oh dear, there’s another goal scene. Who wants that?” Well, more than questionable.
iv. Forward foul
Another very typical situation these days: a cross sails into the penalty area – preferably corner kicks, as the attackers are usually numerous at that moment –.
Scramble, everything pulls and tugs, a whistle, a decision. And here there really is more than 99% certainty: the decision is a striker’s foul! You can look at the scene from all angles afterwards (which is not done), you are guaranteed not to see that a striker fouled more than a defender. It is indisputable that both violate the rules. In this respect, it remains the famous “matter of interpretation”. Only: There will practically never be a penalty. The commentary the usual: “You can’t be given a penalty for that…”. Nah, right, exactly. That’s why it’s always: striker’s foul.
Basically, it’s been the case lately that strikers are whistled back for the smallest offence – if any at all – while the defender gets away with a comparable offence. For me, a foul and its punishment is not dependent on what the referee sees, but where it takes place. If you get too close to the opponent’s goal, you increasingly have to expect resistance from the defence – also in the form of pulling, tugging, holding – for which you yourself are not entitled to anything, while if you pay back in kind, this offence is punished without hesitation. The media take the role: “Everything seen right. Striker’s foul.” Sure, it’s a foul. It’s just that the phrase “it’s also a foul” is much more accurate. After all, both have fouled often enough and in no way with varying degrees of severity. In these, the defenders are also given the “right of way” far more than 90% of the time.
There is also a fairly simple means as a defender to make up for losing the ball. You lose the ball, realise that there is nothing left to save, at that moment you make the last possible physical contact – before the striker is up and away – and drop down. The decision is certain: you have “recovered” the ball by the whistle of the referee. Striker’s foul!
to b: Investigation of causes
So let us now turn to the investigation of causes. Unfortunately, in order to understand the causes, one has to venture a little into the field of psychology. It is already implicit in the previous sections, but I would like to make it a little clearer here: The referee is afraid of a decision that leads to a goal. He is looking for the mistake, so to speak. Much of the trouble he faces is caused by the media. He blew the whistle on this team by scoring an irregular goal. An unrecognised, correct goal, a penalty not given, a wrongly whistled offside, is hardly held against him. The recognised goal becomes a disaster. You can use a standard phrase about how the referees behave best. This behaviour is called “the path of least resistance”.
Furthermore, I would like to draw attention to the fact that a referee – and he was our number 1 at the time, Markus Merk – once indicated himself, questioned himself. The match situation was that he recognised a goal for Weder Bremen against Borussia Dortmund, which was irregular. I would like to leave open whether the fact that this goal, of all things, was shown on the video screen in the forbidden replay and the spectators could immediately recognise the irregularity. The fact is that after the match Mr Merk spoke of his “worst mistake in the last 10 years” and in addition demanded in a 32-page paper that the referees could still correct decisions on the pitch if they immediately noticed the error.
Just think of the consequences for the referees’ guild: Since then, every referee — if he didn’t have it before and Mr. Merk was just expressing the feeling that you are allowed to do everything but never acknowledge an irregular goal — has a panic fear of acknowledging a goal, of even being in the position of doubt. One avoids these situations. One way is to call a striker’s foul as early as possible when there is a scramble in the penalty area. That is, nowadays the whistle often sounds when the ball is still in the air. He has every justification for it, it is not charged to him either, so blow the whistle, no problems. Compared to the fact that the ball actually ends up in the goal after the corner and he has to learn in retrospect: “This goal should never have been allowed. There was a clear push by the attacker, and another goalkeeper obstruction.” Whistle, whistle again and again. Very simple.
The consequence for the paying spectator is something I can briefly mention at this point: The fan endures everything. The one who is denied the goal may go to the barricades and be declared crazy, but biased, because he only represents his interests. The one who doesn’t get the goal rubs his hands together and remains calm. However, the neutral fan no longer goes along with this cheating. He no longer watches football. He is presented with a thriller without a corpse, a Hitchcock without horror, the permanent anti-climax.
It should not go unmentioned at this point that a goal very often causes a huge shift in the outcome of the game. This is especially true for critical decisions very late in the game. So when a game is on the line – which, as mentioned above, is usually assured by the low number of goals – a penalty or offside decision shortly before the end often takes on a game-deciding character. That is a psychological component, which in any case also has its influence. The commentators have also recognised this in this form: “Who would want to carry such a decision at such a moment, in such an important game?” One consequence of this is that even the occurrence of critical scenes is prevented. So, quite happily, a ridiculous action in midfield is whistled off so that the attack does not lead to a goal-scoring opportunity.
to c. Evidence technique
Let me now turn to the evidential technique. Basically, the burden of proof is already overwhelming. Nevertheless, I would like to offer every doubter the opportunity to convince himself that my statements and assertions are correct. The most likely candidates for this are referees themselves, who will certainly be outraged at first, since they certainly believe that they are whistling absolutely correctly and according to the rules. When asked about a foul in the penalty area, they reply: “I could hardly see that from my position. In retrospect, I also realise: that should have been a penalty. I’m sorry” or something similar. Afterwards, their honesty is praised and their game rating is set at 3.
My evidence technique looks like this: You cut together game scenes, according to a certain pre-selection made by me. Then lines and spectators and other players are “touched away”, so you only see the duel, nothing else. Then the referees have to decide whether they consider the tackle unfair, and if so, who committed the foul, and if so, whether it should be yellow or red. They have to decide as if it were a real match situation, only at that moment they do not know where on the pitch the scene is taking place. If anyone goes for it, I can predict a pretty devastating result for the whistling guild.
To d. Combat
The method of control looks even simpler and can be deduced from everything that has been said before. It is quite simply: rethink! Quite simply, there are a large number of people who are enthusiastic about football. The fans of a team who watch a match are clearly in the minority compared to the neutral spectators (which would be a consequence in particular, since it is explained above that neutral fans hardly ever get involved in the major event of football). These spectators – but also the real fans would easily and casually join in and also be more enthusiastic and less aggressive – want to see goals. Whether there is an upper limit beyond which it is no longer exciting and interesting remains to be seen. However, initially there are enough starting points due to the application of the existing rules that the number of goals would increase by itself without further intervention. If you then had a glut of goals, one day you could make the goals smaller instead of bigger to stem the tide. The media share the responsibility by taking a mistake against a goal just as seriously as one for a goal.
For me personally, the rethink would go even further. Understanding that the spectacle, the action on the pitch, the excitement, the passion, the emotion is paramount. The joy of watching a great game, with a sometimes deserved and sometimes less deserved, maybe even lucky winner. But always the thanks to both teams for the great performances and drama on offer. And not to issue the motto – please, please, dear media – that “a win must come, no matter how.” It is not no matter how! The few fans may say it, but the neutral “fans”, the fans of football”? They want honest performances, genuine joy, enthusiasm, excitement, but also fairness and sportsmanship. Be assured!