Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Posts Tagged ‘Health & Safety’

Substitutes and ‘cheating’

Posted by John Beech on July 21, 2011

The Football League has announced that its member clubs have voted “voted to reduce the number of substitutes that can be named on the teamsheet for matches in the npower Football League from 7 to 5” (1).  As a rationale for this change, it was stated that “This was felt to be a sensible and prudent step given the financial challenges facing many football clubs and the commitment made earlier this summer to adopt UEFA’s Financial Fair Play framework“, or, to put it another way, it’s ultimately a good way of cutting costs by employing a marginally smaller squad.

I for one would like to see a change in the rules regarding the actual substitutions allowed.  Nothing imposes such a feeling of anti-climax at the end of a tense game is the tactical (and essentially unnecessary) substitution of players as the final whistle approaches.  It has far more to do with the ‘gamesmanship’ of Stephen Potter than the gamesmanship of what used to be the Beautiful Game.

Musing on this, I turned out an early report by the Football League (but actually published in the FA Yearbook 1966-67, and hence not available online I’m afraid) called “Substitutes: An Experiment Justified“.

It begins “When the Football League introduced its Substitute Rule at the beginning of the 1965-66 season, it was received with misgivings from many people inside and outside the game.  Many of those who were against it chose to ignore the fact that substitution of players for injury has been permitted by the Laws of the Game for a good number of years”.  The second sentence came as a surprise to me.  Did substitution actually take place before 1965?  Surely in that era the culture was for a player to battle on, hiding injury in spite of the danger of exacerbating it causing permanent injury.  Think Bert Trautman.

The report continues: “There were many forecasts of the amount of cheating [sic] and misuse which would follow.  In point of fact, there has been no instance of the Substitute by a manager in order to gain a tactical advantage over his team’s opponents.”  Would that the same could be said today.

Data in the report broadly backs up the claim.  It records that 772 substitutions had been made in 2,028 League games.  These occurred during games thus:

Period of game


Up to 10 minutes


11 to 19 minutes


20 to 29 minutes


30 to 45 minutes


Total, first half


46 to 59 minutes


60 to 69 minutes


70 to 79 minutes


80 to 85 minutes


86 to 90 minutes


Total, second half


The number of substitutions in those days was limited to one, and, as the report says “If substitution is raised to two, this would increase the danger of substitutes being used tactically, which is really what everyone wants to avoid“.  Substitution was, in any case, only permitted then for injury.

Subsequently ‘everyone’ apparently stopped wanting to avoid the use of tactical substitution, and we have seen the number permitted on the bench grow to 5 in 1996 and then the about-to-be abandoned level of 7 in 2008.  Memory fails me on when tactical, i.e. for reasons other than injury, substitution was first allowed (any offers?).

Do I detect in all of this the idea that the Football League cares less about the game and its enjoyment by fans today than it did in 1965, and cares more about the costs of its member clubs?

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh.  Substitution for injury is a principle I would strongly defend, on the grounds of players’ well-being, and I wouldn’t want a return to pre-1965 practices.  It’s just that it seems to me we have gone too far with tactical substitution, something which I still want to avoid, to use the League’s phrase.

Posted in Costs, Ethics, Football League, Health & Safety, Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Players' careers | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

On Hillsborough and other football tragedies

Posted by John Beech on April 15, 2011

Today has rightly been a day of remembrance for the victims of what can only be described as the Hillsborough tragedy.  Part of the reason for the scale of remembrance and the depth of emotion today is the continuing unanswered questions, well posed by David Conn in The Guardian (1).

I suspect that at least part of the reason is also the power of social media such as Twitter (2, and also 3).  Of course, it’s the fact that it’s the anniversary of Hillsborough that determines the poignancy and scale of remembrance.

It often strikes me though that we are actually not very good at remembering the tragedies that have befallen football, except perhaps when we are reminded by an anniversary.  Perhaps we should be more mindful of the scale of previous football tragedies:

  • 1902 Ibrox – 25 fans died
  • 1946 Bolton – 33 fans died
  • 1971 Ibrox – 66 fans died
  • 1985 Bradford – 56 fans died
  • 1985 Heysel – 39 people died
  • 1988 Kathmandu – 93 people died
  • 1989 Hillsborough – 96 fans died
  • 1992 Bastia – 18 fans died
  • 2001 Johannesburg – 43 fans died
  • 2001 Accra – 127 people died
  • 2010 Kampala – over 70 people died in two bombing attacks on cafés where fans were watching the World Cup on television

And of course that is nothing like a definitive list.  But I wonder how well we remember all of those events, let alone show our respects to the victims.  Similarly, the Munich Air Disaster of 1955, when 23 people were killed, is very much in our collective memory, but the Turin Air Disaster, where 31 people died, is rarely recalled in the UK.

All I’m saying really is let’s try and be better at remembering on days which are not anniversaries, and let’s not all but forget some simply because they did not happen in this country.  (I’m thinking particularly of Kampala – only last year, and the victims were not accidental deaths; they were murdered.)

To borrow from John Donne, the death of any fan watching a game or any player travelling to do their job diminishes us.

Posted in Health & Safety, Stadium | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Open season on interns?

Posted by John Beech on March 10, 2011

Yes, it’s the Gunfight at the Cobham Coral saga.

For those of you not up-to-date with the jargon of Higher Education, an intern is someone who, in Old Speak, was on an industrial placement from a sandwich course.  Typically this would be the third year of a four year undergraduate degree programme.  The thinking is that such a placement, or internship, gives a broader education and enhances the student’s employment prospects once he or she has graduated.

Reports that no charges are likely to be brought, and that the police investigation was so thorough that, it is reported, they didn’t even include speaking to either Ashley Cole or the shot intern, Tom Cowan, (1) simply beggar belief.

Chelsea are really sorting this one out though – Cole might be fined up to two weeks’ pay (2) and Ancelotti’s reaction is reported as “I am angry, obviously, but to read that [the training ground at] Cobham is out of control is totally wrong. I’ve been a manager for 20 years and one of the most important things is discipline. Players have to observe the rules.  Ashley made a mistake. When he said sorry he was really disappointed [with himself]. But what do we have to do now? Kill him?” (3)  Ancelotti ‘angry’?  Cole ‘disappointed with himself’?  For God’s sake get real guys – someone was shot in the workplace!

Imagine for one moment that the situation had been reversed – that Cowan had brought the air rifle to work and accidentally shot Cole.  Would everyone have been quite so laid back about it?  I would suggest they wouldn’t.

The incident, or more specifically its aftermath, bring shame on the club.  The silence so far (at least so far as I’ve been able to trace) of the Premier League and the Football Association speak volumes about the power of the club and the indifference of the governing bodies to such an incident.  What would it take to get them to condemn Chelsea – the death of an intern?

I find it staggering that the club hasn’t even bothered to make public more detail of what precisely happened, or what their internal investigation has shown.  After all, this incident took place two and a half weeks ago.  In the Ancelotti world of chronic understatement, I’m ‘disappointed with Chelsea’.

UPDATE – 12 March 2011

The police have said that they will not be taking any action (A).  There are two impediments – the incident took place on private property (in which case, the law is an ass; this is, in my opinion, utterly absurd – the incident happened in a place of employment, and employees should be legally protected), and Tom Cowan has declined to file a criminal complaint.  Make of the latter what you will.

The same report suggests that the club can fine Cole up to £250,000 (two weeks salary).  Have they?  The silence from the club remains deafening.

UPDATE – 29 March 2011

Latest ‘jolly jape’ involves a dart and a youth player (see here).  What sort of injury is it going to take before clubs take this kind of behaviour seriously?

Posted in Ethics, Football Association, Governance, Health & Safety, Human Resource Management, Organisational culture, Premier League, Public relations | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rotherham’s rubbish

Posted by John Beech on September 5, 2009

Or, to be more accurate, U2 fans’ rubbish. Yes, before you start flaming me, the apostrophe of the headline marks a Saxon genitive rather than a contraction. Well, if an academic can’t enjoy a little academic joke on his blog… But I should not josh – this is no laughing matter.

This posting is about the outcomes of a gig the popular beat combo played at the Don Valley Stadium, currently home to the exilde Millers, on the evening of 20 August. Two days later, Rotherham were at home to Rochdale. Speaking after the game to BBC Sheffield, Rochdale manager Keith Hill complained bitterly about the state of the pitch, assistant manager David Flitcroft reported that shards of glass and two nails had been found on the pitch, and the latter pointed out that “players’ safety becomes an issue” (1). Flitcroft also said “Obviously, there are a lot of obligations and I think referees and clubs are scared of getting called off now because of the money implications and the revenue.”

Rotherham United posted a vigorous response to Rochdale’s complaint on the club website (2) on the 27th, making clear what both Don Valley staff and Rotherham United staff had done between the concert and the game in terms of pitch maintenance. There is no statement on the Rochdale website as I write, and the Don Valley Stadium website is still happily running with “One of Britain’s premier athletics stadiums was transformed into a spectacular outdoor entertainment venue as global rock stars U2 landed in Sheffield and sent the city’s economy into a spin…” (3).

On 1st. September Rotherham hosted Huddersfield in the Carling Cup. The latter’s manager Lee Clark complained to BBC Radio Leeds “Professional football shouldn’t be played on that pitch” (4), although why he felt it was alright for amateurs to play was not made clear. He said of the Don Valley pitch “It was so uneven and it’s very easy to twist ankles, slip over and cause injuries“.

Several things strike me as a result of these events. Firstly, it would be interesting to know the views of players from the three teams – this is after all an issue about the safety of their working environment. If things are as bad as they are reported, surely the PFA should be taking up the issue.

Secondly, it draws into focus the problematic nature of multi-user stadiums. I can’t immediately recall any examples of similar problems – is this my failing memory, a one-off, or a problem so common that no-one bothers to report it?

Finally, in a broader context of health & safety, why is it that the sea of saliva that today’s pitches have become is never discussed in terms of health and safety at work? If a single player enters the pitch with an infectious disease and then spits at just one point in ninety minutes (and I simply do not believe that that has never happened), twenty-one other players are at risk. Direct spitting at a player by another player certainly rears its ugly head every now and again, but it seems to be dealt with as a breach of cultural and social norms (and I’ve no problem with that), but not as a potentially dangerous hygiene issue (which I do have a problem with).

Posted in Health & Safety, Stadium | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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