The Five Sub Rule Isn’t The Problem, Governance Is

Courtesy Lincoln City

From this weekend, the Imps will be able to make five changes from the bench for the first time ever.

I’m showing my age now, but I recall when you could only name two subs, but from this weekend, Championship clubs can name up to nine, making five changes. In League One and League Two, clubs will still be permitted to name seven players, but only allowed to bring on five.

I have previously lashed out at the five subs ruling, believing it to be a reflection of the mollycoddling society in which we live today. I think I blasted it for being open to abuse too, but to be fair, teams can only make changes on three occasions but bring on a total of five players. I guess teams that want to waste time will still do so with the late changes, but the impact shouldn’t be that huge.

I’m not sure I’m in favour of it and I’m not sure I’m so vehemently against it now either but I can see how we will benefit. If we are comfortably winning a game, it will allow us to take critical players off towards the end of a fixture and get more minutes into players on the fringes. I suppose if the other is the case, and we’re getting our assess peeled and served to us on a plate, it will give the manager more scope to change the approach. Honestly, I’m still not convinced, nor am I a fan of the change, but I see the good it could be used for, in the right circumstances.

What I would suggest is that referees implement much stricter punishments for players who do not sprint off, or who ensure they waste maximum time leaving the field. Rules came in last year about leaving the pitch from the nearest point, but how many refs were actually told about it? 5%? even if clubs can only make changes on three occasions, nothing is stopping Evans making two changes on 87 minutes, two players dawdling off, then doing the same on 90 minutes. If we are having rule changes, like that suggesting players have to leave at the nearest point they can, then it needs to be implemented. Unless, of course, it is us 1-0 up against Hull with a minute to go. then let’s not bother, eh?

Making 11 subs a game couldn’t save this guy from anguish – Courtesy Graham Burrell

My issue isn’t with the change, but with the complete disparity within our domestic game. Whilst the three tiers below the Premier League can make five changes, in the top flight they can still only make three. It is a stupid situation to be in and a reflection of the gaping chasm within our domestic game. I know the Football League and the FA have always been at loggerheads, right back to the 19th century when the FA wanted to preserve the integrity of the cup and the Football league formed as a separate body. Since 1992, the Premier League has added a third element to the quarrel and now we are seeing the fractured game open and contort more and more.

Bailout arguments, club v country rows, now rule changes affecting some and not others, it is all madness. Is there any wonder fans are confused and angry? The five subs rule is just another shining example of how bad things are within our domestic game. Even when we’re talking about a £50m bailout, the argument starts about who should get more and who should get less. It is my understanding that some clubs feel that the money should be split depending on who has lost more in gate receipts, whilst other clubs think it should simply be an equal split across the divisions. I imagine then there will be the discussion around whether League One and League Two will get the same or not… the arguments never stop, do they? should Hull City and Bristol Rovers, who happily spent money they hadn’t generated on players over the summer, get the same as someone like Accrington who behaved frugally and didn’t spend money they now don’t claim to have?

To that end, should a side like Manchester City, with squad numbers going up to 96, only be allowed to make three subs, when a club like us, without a full bench last night, can make five if we want? Where’s the common-sense in football governance these days?