The 12 best football innovations of the '90s – from fantasy football to the best ever FIFA
1. Liberalisation of the offside rule
Football was in a bit of a pickle at the start of the 1990s. The action on the pitch was dour. Although the 1990 World Cup is revered in this country after England’s journey to the semi-finals, objectively it was a drudge-fest marred by negative tactics and a dearth of goals.
IFAB – the body which sets the rules for the global game – took action. After 1990, they gradually changed the offside rule to give the attacking side the benefit of the doubt. Instead of having to be behind the last defender, forwards could now be level, and by 1995 they also had to be gaining an advantage by being in an offside position for the flag to go up.
It made the job of linesmen a lot more difficult but created a much better spectacle for fans.
2. The backpass law
The other big change of the 1990s was also designed to liven things up a bit. Someone at IFAB clearly watched Italia ’90 with mounting fury, because the tournament was also cited when they implemented one of the biggest changes in the history of the game. From 1992, goalkeepers would no longer be able to handle deliberate backpasses.
That put an end to the spectacle of keepers rolling the ball out for their centre-backs to pass it among each other before handing it back to him towards the end of tight games. There were some comical moments after the law was first introduced, but the men between the sticks adapted quickly – they had to.
In 2018, “sweeper-keepers” are now almost as good with their feet as the players in front of them – although the podgy, distinctly un-athletic yet surprisingly agile stopper is sadly in danger of extinction.
3. Player Cam
In 1999, Sky Sports introduced interactive elements to their broadcasting. Viewers could choose from a number of different camera angles and commentary options, including FanZone - where you could watch two ill-informed idiots bray about refereeing decisions.
However, the best and most fondly remembered new option was Player Cam, which tracked the movements of one player throughout the game.
Done well, this can be mesmerising, as evidenced by the film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Sky’s version was not quite as artful, but it was still fascinating in the days before heat maps and average positions – although often you got a lot of footage of people standing around, or arguing with the referee.
Player Cam is no more, but it does pop on occasion – Sky brought it back for Steven Gerrard’s last game in 2015, and when Emile Heskey moved to the A-League in Australia there was a short-lived ‘Heskey Cam’. The feature has even made a contribution to science – sports psychologist Geir Jordet used it to track how often players look around the pitch. He found that the best players looked around more often – with Frank Lampard and Gerrard racking up 36 ‘visual explorations’ per minute.
4. Predator boots
When they were launched in 1994, the advert for adidas Predator boots ran: “100% legal, 0% fair”. The first edition looked ridiculous, with rubber fins protruding from the top of the shoe (which supposedly offered a greater ability to curl shots). Inventor Craig Johnston built his prototype from the grippy surface of table tennis bats, and it showed.
The boots got the best advertising money could buy on the opening day of the 1996/97 season, when David Beckham was wearing them as he wanged one in from the halfway line against Wimbledon (albeit they were a pair originally intended for Rangers midfielder Charlie Miller). Soon they would be on muddy playing fields up and down the country.
Of course, rubber grips couldn’t turn terrible players into good ones – but Predators made you believe that they could do that for you, if only for a moment.