Seven Substitutes (Doncaster Rovers – NFFC Programme Notes)

In the recent match against Watford at home, I turned to have a gander at who was in the box above where I sit and thought I was having a religious experience of some sort.

After a moment’s reflection I realised it was Jonathan Greening, sitting alongside Radoslaw Majewski, Lewis McGugan and a whole host of other available players.

Unfortunately, Championship managers are restricted to naming just five substitutes. This inevitably means a number of talented match-fit footballers are forced to watch from the stands on any given game day.

Last season the Football League allowed teams to select seven substitutes per game, but after the 72 clubs themselves opted to revert back to five substitutes, the rule was changed for the 2011/12 season.

I have spoken to Forest fans (and fans of other Championship clubs) who simply cannot comprehend why this is the case. To many supporters it seems like a step backwards.

These opinions should not be ignored. After all, it’s these same supporters who effectively pay the players’ wages. The majority would much rather see those who don’t make the starting eleven running up and down the touchline, as opposed to eating a chicken balti pie in the stands … and I’m quite sure the players would agree with this sentiment.

Most Championship clubs have a squad of 20+ full professionals and it seems a waste to have several of these players completely redundant on match days.

Furthermore, the introduction of extra substitutes would mean managers have more options at their disposal. It means that the game can be changed in a greater variety of ways. This can only be a good thing!

Substitutions are a massive part of football. A well timed substitution can change the course of a tie; it can even transform a team’s entire season. It’s part of what makes our sport so exciting.

Just because someone is the seventh choice substitute, that doesn’t mean a situation won’t arise whereby that particular player can change the game. Surely having as many players involved as possible is in football’s best interest.

With things as they stand, it’s not only members of the first team squad who are likely to suffer. When is a young player ever going to stake his claim for a place in the starting eleven, if he hasn’t got the remotest chance of getting on the bench?

There is a huge problem with the structure of modern football; young British players are not getting an opportunity to perform at the highest level. Having seven (or more) substitutes in a matchday squad would certainly present opportunities for these youth players, whose careers may go unfulfilled otherwise.

The worst part of the decision to decrease the number of substitutes is that, in every other respect, Championship clubs are encouraged to have massive squads. The restrictive transfer window system means that clubs have to have an excess of players so that they aren’t left short by injury and suspension during the season. Furthermore, there is a grossly congested fixture list for these clubs to contend with.

All this leads to the fact that clubs simply have to have big squads in order to survive within the modern game. Increasing the number of substitutes allowed on the bench seems like the next progressive step.

Of course there is another side to this issue; it’s the reason why the majority of Football League clubs opted to reduce the number of substitutes back down to five during the summer. Not all clubs in the Football League can afford to have a squad that is big enough to cope with fielding seven substitutes per game.

Championship clubs are considerably better off than their contemporaries in Leagues One and Two and the decision was made by all 72 competing Football League clubs, many of whom have threadbare squads and feel that the availability of additional substitutes puts them at a disadvantage.

Furthermore, with the introduction of Financial Fair Play regulations looming, it may be that all Football League teams have to start cutting back on the number of playing staff they employ. The reduction in substitutes may therefore have been implemented to encourage a more prudent approach to squad building over the coming years.

My feeling is that, despite the forthcoming FFP regulations, the game would benefit from Championship clubs being able to select as many substitutes as possible. If clubs have to strip back their first team squads in order to balance their books, they should instead fill their bench with youth players. This is, in my opinion, the key reason why we need to have at least seven substitutes sitting in the dugout.

I do accept that clubs in the lower leagues do not necessarily benefit from having to field extra substitutes on match days and am not proposing that they should be forced to do so.

Instead I am suggesting that each league should vote separately on the issue. There is a huge difference in the infrastructure of clubs, dependent on which league they happen to be in, and this should be represented in the number of substitutes they are allowed to use on match days.

There are so many benefits to be gained by the game of football if Championship clubs are allowed bigger match day squads. In my opinion, the current restrictions only serve to waste players’ talents and supporters’ money.


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