When is a throw-in not a throw-in? The question sounds like some obscure after-dinner conundrum and one that might have many of today’s younger football fans scratching their heads. Yet it was a very real poser for Horsham, and their fellow members of the Isthmian League, back in the 1994/5 season when the League, then sponsored by sportswear manufacturer Diadora, was invited to trial a controversial new initiative from FIFA. Having tried out the new ruling in Japan, the football world’s governing body were keen to experiment on a wider market so, along with the senior leagues in Belgium and Hungary, the Diadora League was to become the guinea pig in a season long ‘kick-in experiment’. Designed to add an extra dimension to attacking play, teams looking to return the ball from the touchline were given the option of taking either the conventional throw or, by the agreed signal of the raising of an arm, a kick in.
The proposal caused widespread controversy among coaches and the media, who were to give it thousands of column inches throughout the season, with many fearing an increase in the long ball tactic. It was so unpopular with some that one manager was reported to have forbidden his team to exercise the kick-in option, threatening to sack any player who did.
Opponents defending the kick-in were instructed to stand ten yards from the ball, and, if it were played back to the goalkeeper, he was prohibited from picking it up. The new rule was permitted only in Diadora League and League Cup matches which also added to the confusion for those clubs that were also competing in the FA Cup, FA Vase and various County Cup competitions who had to remember to apply the correct code.
Mark Lawford, sports reporter for the West Sussex County Times at the time, was outspoken in his criticism of the new project, fearing managers would select teams of giants to deal with the threatened aerial invasion. “Soon, all teams will field five seven foot defenders and three even taller attackers, while ‘keepers will probably have to duck just to avoid the floodlights”, he commented. “There is nothing pretty in watching the ball launched time after time from the touchline, whereas a long throw-in was a legitimate weapon. Kick-ins add nothing to the game as a spectacle”, he continued. “I can see why the back pass rule was brought in…..but whoever dreamed up the kick-in should be kicked out. It is a pointless, meaningless change which puts defenders in a real quandary under pressure. What I have seen so far is defensive minded teams simply having another chance to hoof the ball 60 yards.”
Horsham’s first success using this new method came in the October when Darren Freeman netted the side’s second goal in a 4-0 romp against Hornchurch but the Hornets were reluctant participants of the new ruling and, after FIFA had gathered the results of the questionnaire at the end of the season, the controversial kick-in was booted very firmly into touch, never to be seen again.