In 1252 King Henry III enacted the Assize of Arms. This act decreed that all Englishmen between the ages of 15 and 60 must, by law, equip themselves with a bow and arrow. This ensured that Englishmen would be familiar with the weapon, and when war inevitably arrived (inevitably against the French) the populace would be ready to fight back. Incredible victories such as Agincourt in 1415 (the 13th century’s Denmark 92 moment) were possible due to the expertise of the Henry V’s well practised archers.
Similarly to Henry III, Roy Hodgson has called for the introduction of penalty shoot-outs should one of his side’s friendly games end in a draw. It’s a perfectly sensible suggestion. After all, penalty shoot-outs have been an integral part of professional football for decades and there’s no reason why a friendly international shouldn’t be used to practice them. There are likely to be opponents to this move who will assert that you can’t mimic a penalty shoot-out at a World Cup finals in a friendly international. But you can’t mimic a World Cup finals football match in a friendly international either, yet we still play them.
Despite being in agreement with Hodgson regarding the addition of penalty shoot-outs after friendly internationals I feel this idea could be taken a lot further. The penalty shoot-out is now ubiquitous in cup competitions across every nation’s cup competitions as well in continental and international play. Any football nation that wants to edge ahead of the rest should attempt to become the gold standard of penalty shoot-out takers. I believe there are a couple of ways that a nation such as England could seek to do this.
Firstly, the head of the nation’s FA should dictate that after every academy or youth team match that the team’s should take part in a penalty shoot-out (regardless of the result). This would give young players regular exposure to penalty kicks. And if the old adage “Practice makes perfect” has any basis in truth, then it should mean that young players who take part in these competitions would improve.
Secondly (and probably more controversially) it should also be dictated that penalty shoot-outs should be played at every Premier League and Football League match at the conclusion of proceedings, whether the game ended drawn or not. The shoot-outs would have no bearing on the final league tables, but the results would be recorded and a parallel “Penalty Shoot-out League” would be run alongside the regular Football League to give fans an update as to how their team was getting on. I believe this would have a few benefits:
- It would give players much required extra exposure to penalty shoot-outs.
- If the shoot-outs were scheduled after the conclusion of the match it would enable players to take the penalties in a fatigued state (a similar state they would take them in a major international tournament).
- It would give teams with nothing to play for something to focus on should they be out of contention in the proper league. (In addition I’d also like to see the winners of all four divisions penalty shoot-out competition take part in a finals tournament at Wembley, similar to the Watney Cup).
- Any “handbags” at the final whistle could be sorted out over a series of penalty kicks rather than in the tunnel. Or it would at least delay them.
- It would give Sky and football bloggers another set of meaningless statistics to trawl over.
Whilst a few of my suggestions above are facetious, I think if any nation wants to take penalty shoot-outs seriously then they do need to start thinking about integrating penalty shoot-outs into their competitions or at the very least their training. More than anything I think that adopting some of the approaches above would give a nation a slight psychological edge over other nations because their opponents will know that they are facing a country that had assimilated penalty shoot-outs into the very fabric of its footballing mentality. That’s got to be worth something?