Organised football has existed for well over one-and-a-half centuries, and its rules have changed a lot over that time. Three years ago, for example, we didn’t have VAR. Now we’re slowly getting used to it even if we don’t particularly enjoy it. Still, there are some rules that have been around for such a long time that it feels like they’ve been with us forever. Take the “away goals” rule in UEFA tournaments, for example. For as long as most people can remember, goals scored by teams away from home are valued higher than goals scored by teams at home in two-legged ties. In reality, that’s only been a rule since 1965. It won’t be any longer, though. Seemingly out of nowhere, UEFA has scrapped the rule with immediate effect.
The rule has been controversial since its inception. Supporters of the away goals principle say that it encourages teams to play attacking football away from home rather than trying to “park the bus” and play all-out defensive football. Critics say that it unfairly penalises the team that’s eliminated from a competition when scores are technically level and also effectively counts as a double penalty during extra time situations because of the lack of time that a home team has to respond if they concede. In the end, the naysayers have finally won the argument. UEFA is saying goodbye to the away goals rule, and they’re doing so with surprising speed. Almost all proposed rule changes in football come after a one or two season delay. Away goals will no longer be weighed heavier as of the start of next season. That’s only two months away.
Regardless of how you feel about the away goals rule, it’s provided us with some of the most dramatic moments in cup football history. The most obvious example from recent memory was the last-minute strike from Lucas Moura that saw Spurs overcome Ajax by virtue of away goals and reach the Champions League final for the first time in the club’s history. The London-based club couldn’t go the whole way – they were ultimately beaten convincingly by Liverpool in the final – but for one glorious moment, anything seemed possible. Were it not for the away goals rule, it would never have happened. That wasn’t even the first time Spurs had benefitted from the rule in the Champions League that season – they controversially overcame Manchester City in the quarter-final the same way just one month before their exploits against Ajax.
Manchester City fans know what it’s like to suffer at the hands of the away goals rule on a big European night. Their neighbours Manchester United know what the other side of that coin feels like. In the same year Spurs were making history, United found themselves staring elimination from the competition in the face as seconds ticked away from them away at Paris Saint Germain. They’d lost the first leg 2-0 at Old Trafford and appeared to have no hope in the return leg. That was until Romelu Lukaku scored an early goal to get PSG’s nerves trembling. They never really stopped. United led 2-1 on the night as the game entered its 94th minute, and PSG gave away a penalty. Marcus Rashford stepped up and buried it, giving United a 3-1 win on the night and an away goals victory overall.
We could go on and on about great European nights that were decided by away goals, but instead, we should look at why UEFA has chosen to do away with them. When the rule was introduced, it was an alternative to deciding tied games via the flip of a coin. Extra time and penalties didn’t exist back then. They do now. There’s no need for this antiquated alternative way of deciding games after draws anymore. There’s also an argument to say that while it might have encouraged the away team to go in pursuit of goals, the home side became more likely to play defensively to avoid the risk of conceding one. In this way, it leads to strategies for games becoming pre-determined and predictable. There are obviously exceptions – we’ve covered some of them above – but European fixtures might become more open without the away goals rule than they ever were with it in place.
It’s easy to make a logical case for saying goodbye to away goals, but we will miss the feeling of chaos they always caused. An away goal scored at the right time in an otherwise drab fixture set the game on fire. It was like being in an online slots casino. Everything suddenly felt possible and impossible at the same time, like the game spun around you. That feeling of barely controlled chaos is what makes online slots so popular. It’s what keeps places like Rose Slots CA in business. People enjoy chaos when they think they might profit from it, and that’s exactly how football fans felt when their team scored an important goal away from home in a European fixture. They were less happy when they were on the receiving end of it, but that’s the way online slots work. You win some, you lose some. Away goals have been around for so long that they’ve become almost part of the fabric of football. It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend.
Still, everything in football has its time. We’re old enough to remember when goalkeepers were allowed to pick up balls passed back to them by players on their own team. Traditionalists swore that it would ruin the game when they were banned from doing so, and yet the game continued regardless. It will do the same thing now. We’re not old enough to remember the introduction of extra time or penalties, but we’re sure people had misgivings about them then. Away goals are out, and VAR is in. A season or two from now, it will be something else again. Frankly, we hope it’s a sensible revision of the handball of offside rules, but that’s probably too much to hope for. In the meantime, why not take yourself to YouTube and watch a compilation video of memorable games decided by away goals? You’ll quite literally never see the like of them again.