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Roker Ramble: Does size really matter when you’ve got snazzy balls?

New season, new rules, Rafa's class start; does size really matter? And how would you describe your balls? Snazzy?

Roker Ramble Header
The Roker Ramble!
Simon Walsh

So, the 25th Premier season kicked off to near unanimous acclaim, with lots of mutual back-slapping and reminiscing about how it all started, how fabulous it’s become, and comments regarding Gary Lineker’s ageing process. And it wouldn’t be a new season without new rules.

We’ve all heard about the retrospective diving ban – meaning players aren’t allowed to dive backwards any more, which is a good thing – but, also banned this season are pitch patterns and designs. Why? They were nice. Picture it: a beautiful sunny day, the grass cut into quaint a tartan pattern, or squirly circles it just adds atmosphere and class. They were fun and a credit to the ground staff – I mean how many people do you know who can do that with a lawn-mower?

Rules now state that:

Playing surfaces must contain no markings other than the traditional horizontal and white lines.

Well I’m not one to split hairs, but a football playing surface is a horizontal plane (or at least it should be – apparently Yeovil has a claim to being historically different, but I digress) and as such, anything that rests on that plane must be horizontal. So it doesn’t matter how they cut the grass because it’s inevitably going to be horizontal anyway. Whatever.

Leicester City v Stoke City - Premier League
So, no good then?
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

I always thought it was a missed opportunity that they didn’t cut messages into the grass. I mean you could have a go at the opposition if you really wanted just imagine ‘Jose is a big girls blouse’ stretching from one penalty area to another. It would warm things up for the home crowd and give commentators and referees points of reference for the position of infringements.

In other pitch-related news, Simon Grayson has changed the size of our pitch for this season – something I’m struggling to comprehend. How can different teams have different size pitches? And change the size during the season? Apparently a pitch can be anything from 90m to 120m long, and from 45m to 90m wide. So one pitch, in old money, can be 30 yards longer and 50 yards wider than another?

This is insane – and could explain why I was spectacularly unsuccessful against Tim Davidson at Subbuteo in my youth (although it was always put down to the respective sizes of kitchen table involved, I had my doubts. His set came in a bigger box).

Toy Enthusiasts Attend The Toy Fair 2012
Didn’t wear suits in my day mind, this is a bit too professional.
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Football doesn’t require an awful lot to make it happen – primarily a pitch and a ball, and you’d think both would be standard because it is in nearly every other sport. When Wimbledon comes around Roger Federer doesn’t ask for a couple of feet to be shaved off the baseline because he’s feeling ‘a bit knackered’.

Of course being a new season, we have a new ball – the Nike Ordem V, described as giving:

Optimal touch and feel with its updated bladder.

Sounds like they’re trying to sell condoms to pensioners.

The theme is continued with the adidas Champions League official new ball, which provides a:

Seamless surface for improved first touch.

And not forgetting the adidas Krasava FIFA Confederations Cup Official Match Soccer Ball which promises:

A thermally bonded, seamless build adds predictable performance... better touch and lower water uptake.

I’d go with the FIFA version – lower water uptake every time. Always have one out with me on a Friday night. They’re not cheap mind, with all of the above pricing in at about £120 – for a football?

Premier League Kicks - Nike Ordem V Premier League Match Ball Launch
For the enhanced experience?
Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images for Premier League

Another new rule allows video technology into technical areas to better protect players from the damages of concussion. Club doctors and physios will now be able to watch replays of any injury sooner after it has happened. Previously, footage could only be reviewed in the tunnel.

First of all, aren’t they allowed to run onto the pitch when some poor bugger is flat out with a bleeding head? And secondly, why has it taken until now to allow this to happen? What is the thinking behind making the medical staff go into the tunnel to look at a replay of an injury? What if they want to ring an ambulance – do they have to use the pay-phone outside the changing rooms?

The final new rule promises travelling fans an enhanced away experience where away supporters will be seated together at all stadiums and at least one block of away fan seats will be made available pitch side. Are there grounds in the Premier League where away supporters are not seated together? I would’ve thought from a stewarding and logistical viewpoint it wouldn’t have been any other way, but I’m not an expert. And having at least one block of fans seated pitch side means grounds like St James’ can’t maroon the away support up in the Gods anymore.

Watching the Newcastle – Spurs game over the weekend it’s hard not to think just how tacky it is to have ‘Sports Direct’ plastered on every possible surface. In fact Rafa Benitez in his suit stood out as the only thing that wasn’t trying to sell you cheap trainers; surely it can only be a matter of time before he’s bedecked in a high-viz polyester shell suit courtesy of his employer.

Rafa had never lost a home game against Spurs, his record – won 8, drew 5. Welcome to Newcastle, mate.

Talking of advertising, Man Utd have just announced a £12 million p/a deal with the online dating service Tinder to put their name on their left sleeve of their strip. What happens when the players have to wear a black armband - do they get a refund?

Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal - Capital One Cup Fourth Round
Well you started it.
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

And the football this past weekend, from a Sunderland perspective, was fun – we won! I can’t honestly remember the last time I said that!

Elsewhere Chelsea started badly - as they did last year - with Fabregas getting booked for sarcasm. I’m not sure if this is a new rule for the referees but we’ll know if someone gets a yellow card for misinterpreting humanity's tendency towards self-destruction in terms of brain structure, philosophies, and its overarching, cyclical political–historical dynamics, that something’s going on.

Fact of the day was that Man City’s summer signings cost more than the entire Brighton side plus their stadium, and my ambition for this Premier League season is to be watching when Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould exchange a sentence. My bet is it won’t happen.