New Season, New Rules, Same Intolerable Behaviour?

On 24th July, the official Premier League twitter account (complete with new ‘visual identity) informed the world that there was ’20 days to go’ until the start of the 2016/17 season. While the rest of the country holds its collective breath and tightens its purse strings, there is an almost reassuring hubris in the way the juggernaut of the Premier League rolls ever onwards.

With record amounts already splurged in the transfer window, it is not hard to imagine owners sat in their executive leather chairs, much like Cyril Sneer in the opening sequence of the Racoons, hoovering up and spending money as though playing a video game, cackling with cigar in mouth as they make their plans – “Sadio Mane £34m- sell sell sell”, “Moussa Sissoko £35m – buy buy buy”, “Paul Pogba…oh forget it”.

The average fan could be forgiven for giving up on all this, on Jamie Redknapp’s waistcoat and tight trousers, on Jim White on transfer deadline day, but thankfully there are signs that matters on the pitch are making it worthwhile to renew that TV subscription after all (or at least put Match of the Day on series record).

Despite the largely ignored calls for reform, and for some of the cash to filter down to the grass-roots game, governing bodies do seem to be getting it right in terms of decisions over the actual rules of the game, with use of goal-line technology and vanishing spray seamlessly embedded. Despite the redundant goal line assistants, Euro 2016 seemed an endorsement of referees letting things flow, and not treating every tackle, every exaggerated fall as a foul and cause for a yellow card.

The next target for the FA is “intolerable behaviour”; which seems to mostly mean players confronting officials and the frequently aggressive and sweary nature in which this happens. Perhaps this was influenced by the chaos at end of Spurs’ encounter with Chelsea that sealed the title for Leicester in May, or Jamie Vardy’s outburst following a second yellow card against West Ham that threatened to derail the “fairytale”. More likely is that after some time, those at the top have tired of Wayne’s big purple shouting face and the sight of John Terry and any number of lieutenants storming up to officials.

A focus on fair play can only be a good thing but professional football will continue to be competitive, and in the Premier League scramble for financial viability, every point, and therefore every minor advantage, will count. Meanwhile we have more TV cameras, more analysis, more media outrage and slow-motion replays that are slower than ever before: players will be naughty, and more often than not they will be caught.

Top level football has probably never been of such high quality, and it hasn’t been this unpredictable for a while either (who are the so-called big four now anyway?). So here’s to a season of hope for football, not all the nonsense that surrounds it, and not Jamie Redknapp’s trousers.

Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog

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