Football: Juniors' Rolling Substitutions Deserve Red Card

Article excerpt

SOMETIMES, FOOTBALL'S governing authorities appear determined to send out their referees with one hand tied firmly behind their backs.

The most daunting experience facing a "rookie" official is his first match in junior football. Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the laws of the game he marches to the middle, knees only slightly knocking and stomach churning. If all goes well he will get through without succumbing to the tumultuous clangers and pitfalls of this initiation.

If he encounters any areas of disagreement, you may rest assured that they will be over the new interpretation of offside and he will find himself in heated debate with a burly parent (or two) considerably older than him and with certainly a more colourful vocabulary. This is likely to be an extension of an earlier discussion with a six-foot juvenile defender with particularly high testosterone levels.

Should these exchanges necessitate a report to the County Football Association, the sanction levied on the offenders will come to approximately pounds 25, so the odds are stacked against the sorry young man in the middle and this is even before the latest move in "junior" football that is making his job all the more difficult.

The Football Association is now allowing rolling substitutions in junior football for all players under 16. This means that a player who has been replaced may return as a substitute for another team- mate during a stoppage with the permission of the referee. With one decision of its council, the FA has managed to negate much of the progress made when Howard Wilkinson's Charter for Quality outlawed 11-a-side football for under-11s. Now leagues up and down the country are rushing to amend their regulations so that clubs with 11- 16-year-olds can take full advantage of this new opportunity.

The loophole that the council has created - for I believe that's what it is - arises out of a simple explanation in the laws booklet. For obvious reasons national associations are authorised by the international board to modify certain laws - size of the pitch, weight of the ball, duration of the game and "substitutions" - in respect of women's, veterans' (over- 35), disabled, and junior (under-16) football matches.

Sensibly, the only place rolling substitutions currently find a home is in FA rules for mini-soccer, for children between the ages of six and 10, who are learning the structure of the game after earlier acquiring the rudimentary skills . …