5 things that football could learn from ice hockey

Football, or soccer depending on which side of the Atlantic you hail from. Is probably the most popular sport in the world. With millions of people captivated by the sport, I am sure that many people would point out that hockey should be taking lessons from football. Despite this, football at times can be a sluggish game, that doesn’t always excite. With this in mind, this blog post describes 5 lessons that football could learn from Ice Hockey.

DISCLAIMER: This article is tongue in cheek, I love both football and hockey! And full respect to Ronaldo, while being a diver, he is also amazing!

Armbands on! Time to dive.

Professional football players train day-in-day-out. Without a doubt, they are strong, muscular and generally able to take the light physical contact that football entails. With that in mind, why does every football player seem to drop like a sack of spuds at every opportunity? Cristiano Ronaldo is a great example of this, he is quick to show his muscular figure off to flog whatever detritus comes his way on Instagram, but on the pitch, the moment a player touches him, he goes weak at the knees…..

I am sure that avid football fans will argue that this is part of the game. They probably stress that falling to the floor like a toddler having a tantrum is the only way to show the referee that you were fouled. This point suggests that the quality of refereeing isn’t up to standard. If so, could the professional contingent of the sport add an extra referee to the pitch? With a referee marshalling each half of the pitch, surely the extra pair of eyes on proceedings would mean that this sort of behaviour wouldn’t be necessary? 

 There is also another problem with the phenomenon. It ruins the flow of games, it creates controversy when it isn’t welcome, and it helps teams to unfair advantages. Not only does it ruin the flow of games, but it also ruins the sport in general. Surely football could follow hockey, and say that a certain amount of contact is acceptable in the sport. And that introducing a policy that says the moment that you fling yourself to the floor, you lose the right to a penalty. Surely that’s the only way to stop Cristiano Give-me-a-10-in-the-high-dive Ronaldo and his cohorts from ruining the game. 

 

I see no reason to make the sport exciting...

Picture the scene. You’ve spent £125 (Premier League average ticket price) on a ticket to a top-flight football match, and you are watching the titans slog it out. The two teams are having bad seasons and they understand how valuable a win today could be when it comes to avoiding relegation. For argument’s sake, let’s say these giants are Bournemouth and Southampton. Both teams have been nervously prancing around the pitch for 70 minutes when in the 71st minute a flash of inspiration sees a player seemingly accidentally knock the ball into the goal with his head. The supporting crowd roars, excited by the first bit of action all match. The ball heads back to the centre of the pitch, and play resumes. For the next 19 minutes (plus booboo minutes) there is one problem…

As the losing team thrust forward, desperately trying to score a goal in response, the winning team move into a defensive formation. Once they have regained control of the ball, they pass it disinterestedly between defending players all the while staring at the clock, seeing the minutes pass by. Eventually, the losing team recognise their fate and the last 5 minutes of the game is a washout. Fans are either leaving or waiting patiently for the final whistle so they can boo or cheer for their team. 

So what is the problem here? Yet again, I am sure that football fans will have some sort of explanation for this. But the fact remains that the majority of the game was dull. The ball was passed sideways with little action. In ice Hockey, on the other hand, a referee can turn the puck over to the other team, if they feel time-wasting tactics are being used. This rule drives teams on, ensuring action into the final seconds of the game. While I get that football and ice hockey are completely different sports, football could do with taking a leaf out of hockey’s book. More action makes the sport more interesting. Time-wasting on the other hand, while potentially earning a win, makes the sport dull.  

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Cancel the game, there's ice on the rink!

Not including the absolute nutters you see in shorts, most hockey fans tend to wear coats and multiple layers when they go to watch hockey games. For those who have never been to a hockey game before, there is a reason for that. Ice hockey relies on a surface of frozen water, this slippy veneer helps to make the sport dynamic which in turn makes the game unpredictable.

 

While I understand that football is a different sport, there really is no reason why a game should be called off for a frozen pitch. Particularly not in the professional sections of the game. After all, all professional teams (and many part-time teams) have full-time ground staff, whose specific role is to care for the hallowed green patch on which the (so-called) beautiful game is played.

 

Even if the ground is frozen, the game can still be played. Hockey players crash into each other countless times in a game. Sliding into barriers, goals and each other. Yes, they have protection, but surely a lesson could be learned here. After all, footballers won’t slide on frozen grass in the same way hockey players slide on the rink. Naturally, those chilled blades of grass can act like a cheese grater for skin, but surely the players could wear full-length base layers to mitigate that? 

 

Cancelling games, often at the last minute is incredibly disappointing for fans. Particularly when many fans live for each weekend when they get to see their team in action. Surely a little bit of toughing it out would be welcome?     

No rest for the players, they must earn their keep!

I have never played ice hockey (cue the insults) but from what I have seen, ice hockey is absolutely knackering. With players on the ice for only a few minutes at a time. Despite this, skating is considered a low-impact sport, with less pressure on the knees. Combine that with the fact an ice rink is far smaller than a football pitch and you raise an interesting point. 

Why doesn’t football start to introduce no limits to substitutes? Ice hockey’s speed tends to add a layer of excitement to proceedings. And there is no denying that players being able to come off and rest, will encourage a higher-tempo game. 

Could this rule of limitless substitutions improve the game of football? Surely it would make the tactics more interesting. Coaches resting players for a few minutes before bringing on their best players in order to try and win the game could make for interesting viewing. It’s not to say that this concept would have to copy hockey like for like, perhaps the substitutes would have to be monitored by the 4th official, as it is at the moment. Maybe substitutions could only be allowed during pauses in play such as before corners or freekicks.  

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Fancy going to watch Arsenal? I'll bring my fan-whacking pole!

One of the things that really makes ice hockey, is the opportunity to catch up with opposition supporters. While there is always a healthy banter, in hockey there seems to be more that unites us than separates us. Hearing about the opposition team from an away fan is certainly the best way to get a feel for the visitors.

 

It goes without saying, there have been a few issues in hockey recently. But these incidents are rare, and the EIHA and teams are quick to explain that these matters are unacceptable. And while we will always have the odd small incident, these are the actions of less than 1% of hockey fans. 

 

While there are often seating areas for away fans, active segregation isn’t something that is put into practice by hockey teams in the UK. And while I cannot imagine this could be implemented fully in the football league owing to a small group of animals that follow the sport and their need to show how big and strong they are by fighting. Surely something could be done to deal with the need to allow opposition fans to mix in a more positive way.   

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