The League Cup is over, and Liverpool wins the comp on penalties, 11-10. When I read a post on Instagram that puts the victory down to Liverpool’s exemplary data driven approach, I slap myself in the side of the head, grunt “derr”, and make a silly incensed reply stating what seemed to me the obvious – that the “data-driven approach” had little to do with a win that was actually decided by an annoying end-of-game lottery. I don’t like penalties at the best of times… but I hate penalty shoot- outs much more. It annoys me that two sports teams can actually stop playing the game, then decide the winner through a ritual activity that doesn’t even closely resemble the sport itself. Let’s finish a drawn Rugby game with a hot dog eating contest. Perhaps break the tie in a water polo game with a punch up. Even better, choose a winner in dart game with a pint of beer skolling contest.
Supporters not known for their tolerance
Not surprisingly my tongue-in-cheek rave was answered by a string of abusive comments from angry “football” lovers who questioned by age, my knowledge of the sport, my manhood, my value to humankind and even my right to breath. Oh well. If I am going to make stupid posts then I have to accept the blow-back. “Football,” as it’s loyalest of supporters insist on calling it, is not known for it’s tolerance of alternative views. It’s fair enough to say that I copped what I deserved. That being said, I did give a bit back. Part of my response to my abusers involved suggesting a better way should be found to decide the result of a drawn game. To be quite honest, as far as penalty shoot-outs go, this game was as good an advertisement as you could get for the penalty shoot-out method. At least all eleven players on both teams had a chance to get involved in the process. At least it was gripping entertainment. It wasn’t soccer (football), of course, but at least it put on a show of outstanding penalty taking skills. Still, exciting as it was, I fail to see how it was an equitable outcome when attempting to determine the worthy top team in the League Cup competition. “We are the champions,” might claim the Liverpool crowd. “My bum,” would be my response.
No alternative to the penalty shoot-out?
One of the nasty young blokes who make rude comments about me suggested that “there can ‘literally’ never be a draw in a Cup Final.” Well, actually there can – but few people would be happy with such an outcome. He also claimed that there is no alternative to the penalty shoot-out. Well, there are. There are many of them. Many already suggested. Perhaps many more not yet thought of. The most obvious alternative is that the teams just keep playing until a goal is scored. Another could be to keep playing but progressively reduce the number of the players on the field until an inevitable goal is scored. Another could be to remove the goalies and keep playing. Another could be to replay the match. These, and other tie-breaking methods, have their plusses and minuses and but I have no intention of going into an analysis of the alternatives here. What I would rather do is describe my own suggestion as to what would be the perfect replacement for the penalty-shoot-out. It’s called Murder-ball… and it’s a cracker!
My proposal is to decide the game with a half-field match played by five nominated players from both teams. No designated goalies. Just one goal. Everyone is trying to score in the same goal. The winner would be declared when one team scored two consecutive goals. Brilliant, huh? The game would commence with one team kicking or throwing the ball into play from anywhere along the end line… then everyone on the pitch would try to get that ball into the back of the net. The moment the referee awards a goal the scoring team retains possession and may recommence play as quickly as they choose from the end line. If they manage to score again, they are declared champions. If their opponents score, then it is now their opportunity to score a consecutive goal and be declared the winner. Bedlam. Rules would be few. Body checking, blocking, screening (obstructing) and hand balling would all be legal. Only flagrant kicking, punching, or tripping of an opponent… or holding of the ball… would warrant a referee blowing the whistle. Such a “foul” would result in the sanction of a goal being declared for the offended team. Given that such extreme measures could cost a team the match (and the championship) it is likely that such behaviour would be avoided by all combatants. No stoppage for injury. The sideline official would allow a team physio onto the pitch to drag an injured player off and then substitute him or her if necessary, but such a temporary player loss would be very costly for the team with one fewer player. Going down for a rest or faking an injury to win a foul or stop play would become unlikely. Goals could be scored with any part of the body. Even a deflection off the hand or arm would do. The only illegal scoring technique would be throwing the ball into the goal. It’s not basketball, after all. Skill. Toughness. Endurance. Courage. Strategy. Teamwork. It’s all there. And it wouldn’t go on for ever. The better team would emerge in well under ten minutes, I would guess. Best of all, they would be playing a match rather than statically firing the ball at (or past) the goalie from a spot.
Fascinating tactical questions
The tactical questions posed for the coaches at the end of a match when a game of Murderball was declared as necessary by the referee would be fascinating. Should we play five strikers? Nah. Strikers can’t defend. Total sissies. Five defenders? Maybe. Most defenders have got a decent shot as well as being able to tackle. Five mid-fielders? Hmmm. Possibly. Maybe we need good ballers and people with vision. Or maybe a mix of shooters, ballers, and tacklers. Or maybe five players who are good allrounders. How shall be play it? Shall we blast away from the perimeter, lob the ball into players close to the goal or ball it around to get an open look? Should we attempt some structure or shape or have players rotate in their roles? Maybe we should let the opponent take the shots and rely on being awarded the goal after managing to touch the ball on its way to the goal.
Okay. I concede that “Murderball” is substantially different to the traditional game of Association Football, but it is a damned side closer to a real dynamic team sport than penalty shoot-outs are. And what fun. Ninety percent of players would love it. Maybe not the odd forward who is averse to a little bit of contact but who cares about them. Just don’t select them to play. Good riddance.
Shall a version of Murderball ever be considered as a possible alternative to the penalty shoot-out in Association Football championship-deciding matches? Nup. Of course not. But I’d like to play it. Maybe it should be a new sport. If ever I do get to play it, I want Sergio Ramos on my team.
If it doesn’t ever get picked up as a way to finish tied matches… or established as a new official sport… maybe it could be adopted as a soccer training scrimmage. It might do wonders for fitness and would certainly get those “shy” players a little more accustomed to the physical side of what is not a non-contact sport!