Revealed: your new rules to make football better and funnier

Powered by article titled “Revealed: your new rules to make football better – and funnier” was written by Barney Ronay, for The Guardian on Friday 12th August 2011 22.03 UTC

The Premier League – which never really goes away – is back. The season was officially “launched” on Sky Sports this week, a peculiar spectacle hosted by Jeff Stelling wearing the fixed and wild-eyed grin of a man who is being held captive in an echoey underground TV bunker and forced against his will to talk enthusiastically about fresh dawns and big countdowns and “the most dramatic league in the world”.

Given that this is Sky Sports’ 20th season I had expected something more triumphalist. Instead we got John Terry in a replica shirt glumly promoting a plan to give football kit to underprivileged kids called, a little tetchily, Get on With the Game. “It’s a no-brainer,” Terry explained, somehow not quite striking the right note – and moments later the underprivileged kids themselves were wheeled on stage to stand next to the fidgeting, gurgling Jeff as the cameras cut away, leaving him looking like a beleaguered minor despot defiantly denouncing the UN on state television from inside his gold‑plated bunker.

What was this all about? Certainly the Premier League seemed to have taken the week’s rioting to heart, simpering gratefully and awaiting with fingers crossed for the official nod to get on with it all again. No doubt it will be short-lived, but this early-season air of ingratiating penitence was strangely appealing. Reform is in the air, with Fifa unveiling some stringent new rules of its own, the most notable of which are: players can only wear tights the exact same colour as their shorts; and players must never again wear snoods, which have been deemed “dangerous”.

With reforms of the professional game focusing mainly on minor details of players’ personal appearance, it struck me that perhaps this climate of contrition in the Premier League was a chance to achieve a popular consensus on these issues.

With this in mind, I asked the people of Twitter what similar rules they might like to see rush-introduced for the new season. Here are a few. Read them and tremble, football.

Any player seen slapping the ground in an appearance of agony must be taken to hospital immediately. Any player seen performing an “I got the ball” mime during a game should be forced to communicate via mime in all subsequent post-match interviews. Players removing their shorts during end-of-season celebrations must be made to start the season similarly dressed. Players thanking God for success or referring to Him in interviews to perform a year of enforced missionary work. Players performing a “finger‑wagging” goal celebration to have the finger in question broken by the club physio before play restarts. And players carried off who subsequently try to run back on must play the rest of the match from a horizontal position on their stretcher.

All substitutes should wear flat caps in honour of the game’s working-class heritage. Players performing the nonchalant, shrugging, curled-lip goal celebration are to be jostled vigorously by stewards. Any player with a tendency to make a sombre, pained, soulful face while waiting to take a free-kick, or players with any kind of sculpted facial hair should have their features pixelated for television. And defenders who usher the ball over the goalline by waggling their rear parts obstructively like an amorous female gibbon “presenting” itself during the mating season can be struck a single blow with a designated weapon, perhaps an umbrella or light rubber mallet.

Managers should be made to apply formally for the right to point and whistle in their technical area, giving written reasons explaining why this is necessary. Support staff who leap to their feet and applaud too enthusiastically, as though none of this glory could have been possible without their incredible kit laying-out skills, should be ordered to leave the ground and wait on the bus. Managers who stand up and nod imaginary footballs during play should be made to wear a papier-mache horse’s head in the dugout.

The good news is that even if none of these reforms is officially introduced we have seen some improvements already. This coming season nobody will call Ryan Giggs “such a wonderful, wonderful role model”. We will hear less about people’s sex lives generally: the News of the World, which was either (a) a wonderful old journalistic institution or (b) a cretinising hate sheet – depending on your level of delusion – is dead.

Poor lonely, sad-eyed Cesc Fábregas may even finally go to Barcelona, a move that will turn out to be a disaster as Fábregas increasingly resembles someone at a party who keeps going on about how excited he is to be there and what great friends you’re all going to be for ever, before ending up crying hopelessly on someone’s shoulder while everybody has to stand around pretending not to be annoyed.

Plus the season looks unusually promising, with all of the big teams having something interesting about them. Chelsea are helmed by a thrusting, pointy-headed Portuguese. Manchester United have been playing experimental Barcelona ping-pong football in pre-season. Manchester City are intoxicatingly strange. Liverpool fans have stopped going mad and now seem deliriously happy instead, like friskily remarried divorcees in blooming middle age. And best of all, thanks to reforms already in place, there is a very real chance that we will see at least one Newcastle United player running around in a pair of bright orange tights. Happy new season.

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