Football is a game, and a type of mass entertainment. All fans of the game want it to be exciting. Part of the reason football (that’s proper football, or "soccer" to you yanks) is so exciting, is that it is a low-scoring game. Fools who know nothing on the topic, sometimes criticise football as dull, because so few goals are scored. In a typical match, three goals are scored (the most common result is 2:1). If no goals have been scored in the first eighty minutes of play, this adds tremendously to the excitement of the game, because both sides know that a goal is still likely, and they also know that one single goal, one single momentary lapse in the defence of one side, one tiny spark of initiative from a talented attacker, can decide the game. Each goal is cause for tremendous celebration.
One effect of the fact that football is low-scoring, is that one side can play better than the other for the whole match, and still lose. Luck is a factor, and this adds to the excitement still further. Even though one team is being out-played, its supporters can watch with a reasonable hope of victory. Another effect is that draws are fairly common.
When a football match ends in a draw, many competitions are settled with a penalty shoot-out. Almost no one likes these. The players hate having to take penalties. The winning side has a hollow victory. The losing side has an unfair or at best arbitrary defeat. The pundits often say that the better side lost. Anyone who saw England get knocked out by Germany in Euro’96, or Holland get knocked out by Italy in Euro 2000, would be obliged to admit that the better team lost.
Supposedly, no better method has been devised for settling a draw. I propose one here.
After full time, plus injury time, the referee should blow his whistle, and there should be a short break during which tension mounts in the crowd, and the two managers draw up lists, or submit pre-drawn-up lists, to the referee. These lists tell the referee which players to send off the pitch. The referee then sends off two players from each team. If one team has had two or more players sent off during the match, then the referee sends off just one player of that team.
Play now starts again, with a drop-ball in the centre of the pitch. The first team to score wins.
After ten minutes of play with no goal scored, the referee stops play again, and sends off two more players from each side. The teams swap ends, and another ten minutes is played, as before.
This continues until a goal is scored. As fewer and fewer players play on the pitch, a goal becomes more and more likely. Each player will have to run further and further, to keep up with play, and each will be more of a hero if his team wins. By the time the game is down to five a side, a goal would seem almost guaranteed, since a player with the ball, who gets away from an opponent, would have an awful lot of room to run into. Very occasionally, a match might go down to three as side, and such a contest would be remembered far more than any penalty shoot-out, and the heroes of it would be greater heroes than were lucky with a single penalty kick. These would be men who held on against the odds. Even the losers by this stage would be heroes. A match that went down to one against one would be a miracle which would go down in history.
A team which had lost a man due to a sending off would be even more penalised by this system, since ten against eleven is not nearly such a disadvantage as four against five. Being harsh against foul play I see as no bad thing.
Note that this system does not require fifteen minutes each way to be played after the first full time. The overall length of a match which ended in a draw is unlikely to be greater than matches which get extended as they do today. Television schedulers, therefore, need not fear.
What do you think, footie-fans?