During the grim, dull days of summer when the only football played is in parks and on beaches, the sport’s governing body, Fifa, tries to keep interest in the game alive by changing its rules. Nobody quite understands the reason for this desire to meddle with regulations beyond the need for the men on its governing body, representing shades of grey from around the world, to remind fans that they exist.
When the season starts again in August, there are always some new Fifa rules. One season, a goalkeeper might be allowed to run around with the ball in a way that had hitherto been illegal, the next it is ruled that a player can be booked for looking at a referee in a really unfriendly way.
With this season’s revisions, Fifa has recognised that, for many people, football is not so much a game as a way of life and have revised the rulebook accordingly. Look out, over the next few weeks, for these changes.
The Three-in-a-Bed Rule. For the first time, guidelines will covering the sexual behaviour of professional footballers. In the words of Fifa spokesman Per Oldlag, “A bad sex scandal, he does harm to the good reputations of the mondial game.” So from the 2007-08 season onwards, activities including dogging, roasting, pigging and the more obscure drooging, will merit a two-match suspension. More controversially, any team whose players are revealed to have participated in what the tabloids call “three-in-a-bed romps” will have the same number of points deducted in the league as if they had fielded an extra player during a game.
The Stepover Limitation. Always concerned to avoid the risk of crowd trouble, Fifa is to discourage the habit of excessively skilful foreign players doing something irritatingly subtle with the ball, leaving a bewildered English full-back on his arse, facing the wrong way. Any manoeuvre which English players cannot reasonably be expected to master will be limited to three per player per game. A fourth will be categorised as “unsportsmanlike conduct” and will be subject to a yellow card.
Poll Dancing. Fifa has become concerned by the egocentric exhibitionism of certain referees, behaviour technically known as “Poll dancing”, after the English celebrity referee Graham Poll. “The man in black, he is a functionary not a matinee vedette,” Per Oldlag has told the press. “And the players, they are more than 22 residuals supporting his performance in the background.”
The size of mirrors in refs’ dressing-rooms is to be restricted and camera makeup for post-match interviews is banned. Referees who make mad, look-at-me gestures during a game, like incompetent extras trying to upstage the rest of the cast, will be demoted to the UniBond league where such antics are treated with the good-hearted contempt they deserve.
Language lessons for English managers. Just as foreign players will be penalised for showing up their more leaden-footed English counterparts on the pitch, so what has become known as “the articulacy gap” between foreign and English managers is to be addressed. It is thought to be demoralising and confusing for fans to hear the fluent deconstruction of a game in a post-match analysis by Arsène Wenger, followed by an interview with Sam Allardyce. The few remaining English managers of Premiership teams are to attend a summer language course to help raise their skills to the level of those who have recently learned English.
The Wag Gag. Among the more serious-minded people in football, there has been some worry that the press now pays less attention to the way top footballers play than to who they happen to be going to bed with. From now on, players are to be restricted to four relationships per season with Starbirds or Sun Page Three Stunnas (see also The Three-in-a-Bed Rule). Teams which allow their players’ wives and girlfriends, the so-called “Wags”, to go on a group shopping-trip, having first alerted their managers, PR agents and press contacts, are to be issued a formal warning. “In our considerations, Wags are parallel to refs,” says Fifa’s Per Oldlag. “They have their interesting positions but they must always be under the footballers.”