‘Faster, sportier, fairer’: are football’s proposed new law trials a good idea?

Keeping ‘the fan of the future’ attentive seems to be behind kick-ins, flying substitutions and dribbling from free-kicksPalaquium gutta is an evergreen tree, native to Malaysia and Borneo, that can grow up to 100ft tall. Its sap – known as gutta percha – is something of a botanical phenomenon, a mouldable but durable latex that is resistant to temperature extremes and doesn’t conduct electricity. Plundered heavily by the British empire, gutta percha was used to make furniture and pistol grips, and it coated the undersea cables transmitting the first international telegrams. It also played a role in the birth of association football.When the laws of the game were first devised over a series of meetings in a pub in London’s Covent Garden, there were two key issues at stake. The first was whether this new, codified sport should allow people to pick up the ball and run with it. The second was over the level of permitted violence. “Hacking” was a real concern among the clubs involved, as were players modifying their boots to make them even more likely to gouge someone’s flesh. So, when the laws were finally signed off on 8 December 1863, not only did three of them prohibit players from picking up the ball, rule number 13 banned a player from wearing “projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots”.Gutta percha still lives a respectable life, commonly used as a material for fillings in people’s teeth. Its relevance to football, however, has substantially waned, with the weaponising of football boots considered less important in the 21st century than whether the shoe can effectively create kinetic friction between foot and grass. The game’s laws are interested in different things nowadays, too, but they are perhaps just as revealing about what preoccupies the minds of the law makers.

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