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Football's 18th Law is common sense

“Mon Code est perdu”. “My code is lost”, exclaimed Napoleon when he saw how a hail of commentaries and additions had rained down on his new set of basic criminal laws, which, in trying to polish and refine them, threatened to destroy their essence. It didn’t turn out to be so bad though, and today that code is considered the base of the criminal justice system in several European countries. But it’s a story worth thinking about, because I fear that Stanley Rous, the man who cleaned up and set out the rules of football perfectly in 17 Laws, would be shocked to see how the new bureaucrats are fiddling with his code, and making it more confusing.

This comes to mind because of the fleeting ‘tackle to the heel’ law, which lasted just a few match days. With this former ref and current head of the referees committee Velasco Carballo has equalled Díaz Vega, who decided to give extravagant licence to strikers standing on the other side of the wall at free-kicks. He changed his mind after a few weeks. Coming up with new discoveries to improve football when it's been around for a century and a half requires the audacity of the ignorant. And it's not just the new inventions we've come up with in Spain. Even the IFAB has brought into being new rules such as kicking-off backwards, not allowing a rival to stand in the wall and such things. Some (sending off of keepers) had to be changed in short order.

The 17 Laws of Stanley Rous are based on simple principles, almost akin to natural justice, and came together after 60 years of playing the game. They didn't turn up overnight. A long time ago now we talked of Law 18 - common sense. It was up to the referee to apply it and the public to accept it. Now the tendency is to substitute this Law 18 for a tangled mess of clarifications - whether the hand was in this or that position, and even to the point where if the player doesn't touch the ball it's not offside... Today everything in football is better than it was before, except for this disrespectful meddling with the old, wise laws.