I dare say there are one or two football fans who looked at each other quizzically when they first noticed the referee spraying a little line of foam on the pitch, when positioning a wall after awarding a free kick, during the Copa America. They didn’t have to wait long for the over-eager commentators to spill their pre-written sound bite on the subject, in much the same way that my mates didn’t have to wait long for me to spill my pre-memorised thoughts on the subject.
Now, I’ll hold my hands up and rather than try to make it look like I knew all about this vanishing spray, because I’m some sort of footballing aficionado, I’ll come out and admit that the only reason I knew about it is Tim Vickery and his blog on the BBC Sport website.
For those of you who still don’t know what this foam is, or what it does; the referee carries the spray in a small 115 gram aerosol can, when he awards a free kick he paces the necessary 10 yards and then sprays a white line on the pitch to mark the correct position of the wall, the line evaporates within a minute or so. The theory behind it is that players will find it much more difficult to encroach on free kicks, now that the referee has a guide as to where they should and shouldn’t be, no more stealing a yard as soon as the referee turns his back. It sounds ridiculously simple and it really is ridiculously simple, so why hasn’t been used before now? Well, it has.
In 2008 there was a smattering of British newspaper coverage as the Argentine Football Association agreed to introduce the spray to their top tier, this after a six month trial run in the Second Division. The press seemed wowed by this crazy idea that could put an end to one of the most frustrating aspects of set pieces. Surely the English FA would consider introducing it too, or at least authorise a similar trial run in the lower divisions. Right? Hmmm.
A year later, 2009 and the South American Football Confederation, impressed by how effective this foam has been in league games, decide to start using it in continental competition and authorise it’s use in the Copa Sudamerica. In the meantime various other football associations, Mexico and USA for example, have agreed to introduce the vanishing foam. That same year, FIFA Chairman Sepp Blatter appears to pave the way for discussion about universal use of the spray, stating “if it’s good for football there are no reasons to prohibit it’s use,” I’m sure the irony of that statement isn’t lost on anyone.
Blatter seems to be ok with it and more and more countries are buying into the idea, the English FA are bound to sit up and take notice now. Nope. Three years since it’s initial introduction in Argentina and the English FA are yet to make a move with this product, even at a non-league level. To make matters worse, having discussed it with @Cyngeticus it appears that a similar product has been used in the lower tiers of Brazilian football for almost ten years. Yikes.
Of course, none of the other major European leagues have adopted the foam either, but that’s no reason for the FA to rest on their laurels and not take the lead with what could be considered a revolutionary product. Ah, but it doesn’t make money does it? It’s starting to make sense. The FA and Premier League would far rather discuss a money spinning 39th game in Abu Dhabi than consider a simple feature that would reduce cheating and make a referee’s life easier. Well played, sirs.
Instead they will continue to hide behind unity and Uefa, all the while being left trailing in the wake of, so called, lesser league who have the gumption to set the standard with the innovative features that matter.
Pablo Silva, a sports journalist, who invented the spray used in Argentina, described the moment he came up with the idea;
“In the 88th minute, we were losing 1-0 and won a free-kick on the edge of the area. When I took the kick, the wall was three metres away. The referee didn’t book anyone and didn’t do anything. We lost the game and, driving home later with a mixture of anger and bitterness, I thought that we must invent something to stop this.”
How many more fans of English football are going to be left with that feeling of anger and bitterness on the drive home before the Premier League and FA put their head above the parapet and adopt even the most simple of effective features? How many referees are going to be hauled over the coals on Sunday morning because of a couple of stolen inches.
In 2008 an FA spokesperson was quoted as saying;
“If it works we would be crazy not to consider it.”