What Can Football Learn From Ice Hockey?
The NHL season is now underway, how could the English Premier League learn from some of Ice Hockey’s core principles?
Off-Ice Disciplinary Action
Based in the New York City NHL headquarters is the league’s ‘department of player safety’ (DoPS). Comprised of ex-players, the panel established in 2011, among other responsibilities, overlooks questionable actions within the league and where necessary impose the appropriate form of punishment.
A hearing with the DoPS requires the attendance of the offending player, his general manager (in footballing terms, club chairmen-first team-manager hybrid), members of the NHLPA, as well as the offending player's agent.
The purpose of a hearing is to interview the player and his representatives about the play in question. No decision concerning disciplinary action is made until the player is given the opportunity to explain his actions.
It would make an interesting impact if, for example, Diego Costa were called to such a hearing with the likes of Antonio Conte or Roman Abramovich in tow. The concept becomes all the more thought-provoking when you ponder the idea of potential former players making up the EPL DoPS.
For the sake of this article let’s nominate Sir Trevor Brooking as the committee’s President (an ideal candidate as former FA member as Director of Football Development), with ex-Arsenal hard man Martin Keown as the panel’s head. Such an imaginary hearing would likely prevent Mr Costa from making headlines for the wrong reasons; all be it via sheer embarrassment. Just how would a player respond to a question such as:
“Mr Costa, can you please explain to the panel why you thought it necessary to attempt to remove the West Ham Keeper’s foot with this late tackle?”
In addition to the DoPS, I think fans of the EPL would have an increased sense of sympathy and empathy for the league's officials if they mirrored the NHL zebras by wearing cameras and microphones.
A quick Google search will show that the EPL's Respect Campaign is widely considered a laughing stock with the former referee, Graham Poll explicitly outspoken on the matter. It is genuienly concerning that to this day, players regularly verbally abuse and gesticulate physically towards the officials.
It's conceivable that fans would at least think twice about player bookings and dismissals if they could get a first person perspective of the vitriol EPL referee's experience.
The NHL is home to many testosterone fueled gargantuan enforcers, however, issues where players show blatant disrespect for the officials are few and far between. While this is not exclusively due to the presence of cameras, it certainly helps provide a sympathetic perspective for the referees.
On-Ice Disciplinary Action
This next suggestion cannot be taken particularly seriously, but it's humorous if nothing else to at least consider.
NHL is home to a host of ‘pests' or ‘agitators', look no further than former player Sean Avery or current aggravation specialist Steve Ott.
These players make a career out of being ‘human splinters’ getting under the skin of the opposition’s best and most temperamental players. The equivalent within the EPL would have been Craig Bellamy in recent years or today's game Diego Costa.
As a fan it is hard to stomach their behaviour. However, the likes of Ott and Avery regularly have to pay the price in the form of on-ice discipline. Imagine Costa has once again feigned injury or left a foot in but is now called upon to physically defend himself on the pitch against the likes of Robert Huth or Michail Antonio while other players and the referee stand by and watch.Mr Costa, can you please explain to the panel why you thought it necessary to attempt to remove the West Ham Keeper’s foot with this late tackle?”
Football officials are only entitled to issue yellow or red cards, and unlike Rugby, a yellow card doesn't result in a temporary period in a sin bin or penalty box. For the sake of amusement, let’s assume a booking in the EPL does lead to the offending player to be sent to a penalty box.
The penalty box itself will resemble those in the NHL, a cosy Perspex chamber fitted with a camera and built within the stands to allow audience participation.
NHL offenders are subject to all manner of interaction with the surrounding fans and on away days it can be quite intimidating. Some players within the EPL are borderline pantomime villains and would love the experience, but for most, it would be a sizeable deterrent.
The nature in which football is overseen by governing bodies and how it is actually officiated on the field of play can clearly benefit from the NHL. Whilst a number of suggestions are light-hearted, it would be good to see a domestic league with less gamesmanship and more respect in the future.