The excellent sports writer, Simon Barnes, recently wrote a piece in which he assessed the modern innovations in our major sports and gave his opinion on their effectiveness.
He looks at limited overs cricket - 65 over games started in the 60s, while Twenty20 was born in 2003 - the tie break in Tennis (born 1970), the introduction of petrol breaks in F1 (1994), the many intricate rule changes made in rugby over the years and in football, the penalty shoot-out (also 1970).
I'm not informed enough about cricket to have an opinion and Formula One leaves me mystified at the best of times - whatever they do to it I can't get past the fact that the man with the best car seems to have something of an advantage. Besides, while I know the drivers are doing something remarkable I don't feel able to perceive their skill as a spectator. I mean, I know how fast they're going but on a TV screen it simply doesn't look that fast. The rules of rugby have changed so much since I was being kicked all over the school playing field that I've given up trying to understand it properly but can still sit and enjoy an international because good rugby is still mightily impressive to watch.
The most interesting assessments to me were those made on tennis and football, not least because they're both rule changes brought in to achieve the same goal: to break a deadlocked game. Here he concludes that the tie-break has been an unqualified success but that the penalty shoot-out has had a negative impact on football. And I think he's right.
While a penalty shoot-out is undeniably exciting it's not football. A tie break is undoubtedly tennis. The presence of a tie-break doesn't encourage players to play for a draw. A penalty shoot out does, if not from the start, then at some point.
Surely there ought to be some other resolution to a drawn football game that's better than the toss of a coin, fairer than a penalty shoot out and that still involves playing football... all of it, rather than just one particular part of it.
Here's my suggestion. I'm probably not the first person to come up with this. I won't be at all surprised if I find dozens of people telling me where hundreds of others have discussed it in the past. If that's the case, my apologies for not having my finger on the pulse. Here goes:
Currently they play a period of extra time and then go to a penalty shoot out. I'd suggest that when a game is drawn at 90 minutes they should play ten minutes of extra time - but that each team should withdraw two players. If it's still drawn after that, they should withdraw two more players each and play another ten minutes. And so on. Ten minutes of 9-a-side, ten minutes of 7-a-side, ten minutes of 5-a-side and if needed, ten minutes of 3-a-side. Rugby Sevens is a more free-scoring game than its grown-up counterpart because there's more room for players with pace to exploit and I would have thought the same would be true for football.
It would reward fitness, make it less of a mindgame and more of a game, maintain the fact that it's played by teams and not individuals and involve a manager making tactical decisions based on his players strengths and weaknesses.
Of course, it doesn't address what happens if, after 40 minutes of extra time and with only 3 players left for each team it's still a draw. So, um, well, then you, er, um... have a penalty shoot out.