I’ve been meaning to pen this letter to FourFourTwo magazine since I was about 12, so there is likely to be over a decade’s worth of pent-up frustration and half-baked arguments in the following few paragraphs.
The foul throw rule has always baffled me. Of course, I understand the basic principle of the rule – there are certain ways in which a throw-in can and cannot be taken as permitted by the sacred laws of the game.
What concerns and confuses me, though, is the sheer disregard paid to this rule by the professional elite. You don’t have to watch many top level games to notice players regularly committing foul throws at an alarming rate.
And I can scarcely remember seeing a professional player being pulled up on their offence by a referee. When you consider that committing a foul throw is a legitimate rule break just like a ‘keeper handling outside of the box or a backpass, it is rather bemusing that these indiscretions are treated so nonchalantly by officials.
Compare this, then, to grassroots football where a foul throw is treated as a cardinal sin. Go to any park on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you’re likely to see at least one instance of a referee lurching into a lung-busting sprint in order to pull up an unsuspecting child for a foul throw. If one of a player’s boots ventures so much as an inch off the turf, you know it’s getting given.
When I was younger and played for a Sunday 11-a-side team, I vividly remember one training session being more or less exclusively dedicated to practicing throw-ins due to us taking foul throws like they were going out of fashion the previous week. I can’t quite imagine Pep getting his mob to do the same, can you? It even seems a bit of a stretch for someone like Neil Warnock or Mick McCarthy these days.
And this all seems pretty harsh on a bunch of prepubescent aspiring footballers to me. If professional athletes in their 20s and 30s do not have to lose sleep over the embarrassing thought of being punished for committing a foul throw, why should a group of ten-year-olds who play down the local rec on a Sunday?
Let’s be clear, being penalised for a foul throw is a truly galling experience. It’s not quite on par with scoring an own goal or missing an open one, but I would say it is comparable to being nutmegged or taking a shot that goes out for a throw-in.
If this has happened to you before you will know the feeling. Being pulled up for a foul throw gives the impression that you can’t even master the basic art of throwing a football from behind your head with your feet on the ground, let alone doing anything productive with one at your feet. In other words, it makes you feel like an inadequate piece of shit.
We all know that many of the traditional links between grassroots and professional football were broken a long time ago (think facilities, fitness, finances). But one thing that is usually and should always be constant at whatever level the game is being played at, is the rules. So why are foul throws committed by professionals being ignored?
If players can’t be arsed to take throw-ins properly and referees certainly can’t be arsed to punish unsightly deliveries, then I’m proposing an abolition of the foul throw rule. And we can just have a free (throw) for all instead…
By Conor Shilling