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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 21:24 GMT
Chick Young's column

By Chick Young
BBC Scotland football correspondent

Excuse me while I talk some balls. Less of the "no change there, then" from you at the back.

This time I'm talking footballs. The centre piece of the beautiful game, without which 22 blokes would look rather silly.

I am distressed by the attitude of the SPL and the Scottish Football League to the multi ball system, the arrangement whereby ballboys and ballgirls are employed to keep a match flowing with a constant supply of the aforementioned commodities.

The multi ball system helps the game flow
The multi ball system helps the game flow

It was a brilliant innovation which kept the action flowing, in stark contrast to the bad old days when the one ball was booted out the park or into the crowd and we all stood about discussing the price of mince while it was retrieved.

The multi ball system is currently in use in this country for international matches and European ties. But not for domestic league fixtures. Why not?

At Fir Park on Sunday the Motherwell v Rangers match, which was played at breakneck speed, was brought gasping to a frustrating halt twice when the match ball was launched over the stand and into the school playground.

The fourth official was left to fumble about for a replacement which was then booted across the pitch for a restart.

And then there was the Old Firm game in which the ball went into the crowd where Celtic fans were gathered and who - since their team were giving Rangers a going over - were in no hurry to return it.

Of course when a replacement ball was eventually summoned from the fourth official, the original one came bouncing on to the pitch from an unidentified supporter.

This, depending on your allegiance, is A) great laugh or B) about as funny as toothache.

Neutrals would prefer just to get on with the game.

Fans pay good money to watch the ball in play, not players standing about like Subbuteo models.

Paying customers at the Aberdeen v Hearts game a few weeks back will recall the bizarre disappearance of Craig Gordon for what was surely fully a minute.

Aberdeen v Hearts
Fans don't want any let up in the action

A wayward shot was fired up the Beach End tunnel and the Hearts goalie set off in hot pursuit and those queuing for a pie and Bovril found themselves parting to allow the Scotland keeper to retrieve the ball.

Once upon a time it was different. The old Scottish League ruled that a new ball had to be used for every match and I know of at least two clubs who ordered their players at the first opportunity to boot the ball out of the ground.

An old ball was thrown on and the new ball was retrieved, given a rub down with a cloth and stored for the following week.

But in these sponsor rich days surely we can tempt a sportswear manufacturer to supply to our clubs all the balls they would ever need?

And what of the employment situation for ballboys and girls? Under the current circumstances they are, at most grounds, surplus to requirements although I do observe that most clubs have gamely kept them on.

Good thing too, because these children are at the heart and soul of the game and how can you ever know the teams are about to come out if the ballkids don't emerge first?

I do know that some clubs have actually asked permission to use the multi-ball system and been refused and of course given the requirements of any given fixture - goals desperately needed or time needing to be played out - some coaches will deploy the kids as keenly as the players.

That's an outrage... although I will actually admit to kicking onto the playing surface a second ball when Scotland were playing out time in a vital World Cup tie and were under pressure.

But that's a whole new ball gameż





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