Rolling subs trial welcomed at grassroots level

Less time on the touchline in store for many amateur players

The grassroots football community would welcome unlimited substitutions throughout the amateur game, a Club Website poll can reveal.

Earlier this month, the game’s law-makers, IFAB, approved a two-year experiment by the four UK home nations to modify the number of substitutions allowed in the amateur game.

Following the law change, repeat substitutions could become a feature of youth and open-age football matches across the UK from next season – a move that would be welcomed by the majority of the grassroots community.

56% of Club Website members said that they would welcome the introduction of rolling subs in all amateur football, while a further 21% would like to see the rule introduced for all youth football but not in the adult game.

22% of people would be happy to maintain the status quo, which sees rolling substitutes employed in most younger age groups, but the traditional “3 from 5″ rule introduced for older teenage sides in preparation for open-age football.

Among those celebrating the ruling is David Little, national secretary of the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA), whose campaign for a change to increase participation in the game has been a longstanding one.

“I’m walking on air at the moment,” Little told Club Website. “This is an accumulation of 12 years work to get this sensible decision in place.

Now all five of these lads can play (except perhaps the one in jeans)

“If kids and adults aren’t playing the game at grassroots level the future of the professional game is affected.

“We’re really, really pleased about this. I think it’s important that anything that can encourage people to play the game is put in place.”

IFAB’s decision came after a joint proposal from the four home nation FAs, who formed a ‘Home Nations Committee’ in 2010 to discuss key issues in the grassroots game across the UK.

“It’s been fantastic,” Little enthused about the work of the committee. “My thanks go out to Nick Levett at the FA who has been a fantastic ally in this campaign.

“One of the positives to come out of this is the fact that the grassroots level of the game has been discussing problems and coming forward with solutions for the benefit of the recreational game.”

Away from the corridors of power, the news was also welcomed by Club Website members when we broke the story last month. Dave Hammond was among them, describing the trial as a “great idea”.

“I currently will only take 14 players to a game as I won’t take people and not play them,” he said. “If I could take more players then I would be able to give more lads the chance of at least part of a game.”

Roger Hodson also supported the idea.  He said: “I am secretary of a youth team so it’s great news, as the more of the lads getting pitch time, the easier it will be to retain them. Who wants to sit on the bench all the time? Bring it on.”

22% of Club Website members want to stick to the current rules for substitutes

Not everyone wants to see a change to the rules, however, as our poll results suggest.

Mark commented: “[Our] Sunday league is competitive and is difficult enough to run with 3 subs never mind constant rolling subs… joke of a change if it is brought in.”

Whilst some people, including Graham Mills, felt the changes were best suited for youth football only.

“I think it’s a good idea for youth games but not for adult football,” he said. “Three subs is already too many in my opinion. I’ve seen managers bring on players just to give them a game and it can upset the rhythm of the team.”

Have your say on the rolling subs trial in our comments section below.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor

Club Website poll result

Should rolling substitutes be used throughout grassroots football?
– Yes. Introduce them to ALL FOOTBALL (youth & open-age) 56.4%
– No. Leave as it is (older age groups & open-age as fixed subs) 22.4%
– No. Introduce to ALL YOUTH football (leave open-age as fixed subs)  21.3%

Total votes cast: 3,576

Thanks to Peter Edmondson for the second image above (of Butleigh Wootton FC) – see for more of Pete’s photos.

Dan Pope on LinkedinDan Pope on Twitter
Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

Take the hassle out of organising your sports team with Teamer. Organise, communicate and take payments.


  1. Kenneth Allen on March 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    As a referee I am against this, it is difficult enough to keep track of substitutions.

    If two teams from the same club, are playing on pitches next to each other, who is to keep track of which team players are playing for, or if they are leaving one game, and coming on on the other.

    In the league I referee in, Lancashire & Cheshire, what is to stop a club, whose 1st team do not have a game, having them all stood on the line for their 6th team, and if they are losing, bringing them all on?

    Obviously, the better teams will benefit from this, and the poorer teams will not, thus widening the gap, and the closure of teams.

    Struggling teams already struggle to get 11 players each game. Winning teams do not.

    Amateur football is already dying from poor decisions made in the past, and they seem to be continuing.

    Are the people who voted “yes” truly representative of the game, or just the noisy minority?


  2. ian simpson on March 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    this is a fantastic idea. it works well in the over 40’s league i play in. i personally think it should be brought into all amateur games. trial it, if it works then great, if not then revert back, no problem!

  3. Craig Fox on March 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    All this would lead to is having certain players for certain times!
    Bringing your massive player on for set pieces, then taking him off.
    Bringing on your free kick taker for 1 kick, then taking him off. etc etc

    It will become like American Football!
    All for rolling subs in youth league, but NEVER in adult football!

  4. Steve Halls on March 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I can see the pro’s and cons for both arguments. Rolling subs have certainly helped us in the past and not from gaining an advantage but due to unforseen circumstances and injuries.

    I can see Kenneth’s argument though. Multiple games taking place in close proximity would certainly pose a referee a real problem.

  5. Nick burgess on March 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Keith Allen. Sounds to me it’s about time you retired. Rolling subs is a much better situation for all. Especially the managers and players. Good call from the IFAB.

  6. Stuart Lustigman on March 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I am not a noisy minority (K.Allen). My masters (veterans) league (over 35’s) has been operating rolling subs since its inception in 1999 and it works perfectly. We permit up to 5 subs although open leagues might want to restrict it to 3 subs. It’s great for subs who otherwise might have to stand for over an hour or longer hoping to get a game.
    The next piece of sensible legislation I would like to see introduced to masters football is the use of ‘guest’ players whereby, with the consent of both clubs and the league, a team can ‘borrow’ players from another team rather than have a game called of due to insufficient players which not only saves the use of the pitch but also ensures that, maybe, 22 players (13 from one side and 9 from the other) get a game and the referee is not wasted. A win-win situation which really works provided the right safeguards are put in place.

  7. Steve on March 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    As someone who lost the will to live after spending most of my time on the subs bench “just in case of injury” I think this is a fantastic idea and will make it far easier to keep a squad happy.

  8. scott ravenhill on March 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    sounds like a great idea, how many times have you been clattered by an opponent, gone off injured and then miraculoulsy recovered 5 mins later? if youre one of the slightest players on the pitch like myself you will know exactly what I mean!

    the only problem I can see is… is the ref going to stop the game still to let the substitution take place, are teams gonig to try and disrupt the end of the game in order to keep a result? or is it going to be a free for all swapping and changing without the game being swapped??

  9. Richard on March 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Seriously – players coming off 1 pitch and moving to another to play for another team – it would never happen!! Whilst I can see the arguement against rolling subs I would definately support being able to use more than 3 subs – especially in the local senior leagues. I regularily have 7 subs for every game in adults and can only ever use 3!! we’re far from professional and it means there’s a lot of players not getting much game time!!

  10. Andy on March 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I think it would be a great idea for grassroots football. All the terrible things that MIGHT happen almost never DO happen in Womens or Youth football where repeatable (not rolling) subs have been used for years. In those games it has worked to the advantage of both weaker and stronger teams in introducing players who might otherwise not get any game time under normal rules. Don’t kid yourself that lower league amateur teams are any different to these teams just because the players are men.

    As a referee myself I have had to cope with who is a substitute and who is not whether they go off and stay off or come back on again. Anyone signed for the team can be a sub, as long as the referee has them in his book before the game starts, irrespective of whether you play normal or repeatable subs.

    Try it, you might be surprised how much you actually like the change…

  11. Gill Howell on March 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    We have been using rolling subs (5) all this season. It gives more players a game and makes team selection a lot easier.
    Gloucester Youth League

  12. Riz on March 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Rolling subs have not been good to my son, since introduction he has hardly any game time,and other players are more favoured.

    His last game was a total of ten minutes, what kind of perception as a player does he give to national scouts, who watch his team on a regular basis?

    Only him and a fellow team mate are not with an association team.

    I am afraid that the likes of him and many others throughout the country are missing out, this cannot be good for players with exceptional talents, left behind as they watch team mates further their careers.

    I am talking about under 15s

    Quite sad about this

  13. Mick Webb on March 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    If amateur football is to survive roll on roll off subs are a must. Players leave the game because some are only getting 10 mins of football a week. It has to be imposed permanently NOW it is the only sensible solution.

  14. COLIN SEEL on March 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    As the President of the Carlisle Glass Longhorn Youth Football League, I personally have some reservations about the use of Rolling Subs, and a possible “free for all”, as players leave and enter the Field of Play on a regular basis.

    Our League has a progressive and innovative approach, and have “trialed” several new ideas over the past few years, including the Rolling Subs.

    We also have a ruling that insists that all players in a team’s squad must partake in at least 50% of the match. So even the least talented youngster gets some game-time.

    Combining this requirement with the Rolling Subs rule will make life “interesting” for our Referees.

    However we firmly believe that the paramount consideration MUST be to ensure the young players gain the maximum enjoyment and participation in a match.

    With all the other national changes on the horizon — numbers of players per team, sizes of pitches, goals etc., life has never been more interesting in our particular League.

    We will continue to support ANY sensible change which benefits the kids … that’s why we all get involved with youth football in the first place … isn’t it?

  15. Steve W on March 31, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Our league (under the Welsh FA) has allowed rolling subs for a few years but have since trialled NOT having them! it didn’t work as it meant some kids getting less time on the pitch so they have gone back to it. In my opinion it really works well!

  16. Michael Talbot on March 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I work part-time for Birmingham City Academy. I think it is a great idea for the concept of “rolling subs.” It should be used at all age groups especially up to Under 18 level. It ensures that there is a chance to ensure plenty of opportunities for kids to play rather than stand on the touchline

  17. J.C. Nelson on March 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Let’s get a grip here! This is Mini/junior football. We’re not playing for big cups and premiership titles.
    We want children to have equal playing time and, more importantly, fun. Let’s face it, if poor Johnny doesn’t quite cut the mustard, many coaches will leave him on the sidelines until the closing minutes of the game. Johnny becomes despondent, looses enthusiasm, his game suffers and he eventually leaves the club. In addition to this, Johnny’s daddy, who has no interest in anyone else other than his own son is chewing your ear off because he hasn’t had a full game all season!
    I league games, who cares about how many times you roll your subs? To say that it’s a refereeing nightmare is nonsense, and in no way are we going to Americanize the game by having specialist players come on at critical stages in a game? Really? I don’t think so.
    What we will achieve, is satisfaction for everyone. The players, because they’re not hanging round having their extremities frozen off in the driving rain; the parents because Johnny is getting more playing time and the coaches because neither group is whinnying and whining, leaving you more time to marshal the game from the sidelines.
    I love it! Common sense prevails!

  18. Jim O'Rourke on March 31, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    If this rolling substitution idea is going to be introduced then it must be subject to a number of rules to prevent abuse of the system. If two teams from one club are playing matches on adjacent fields no substitutes are allowed to leave their team during a match and not allowed to cross pitches during a match to play for the other team.

    Also all players including substitutions to have fully paid all subs up to date prior to any match or not be allowed to play. That is fair to all.

  19. derek pratt on March 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    i woudnt use runing subs i would like to rule that all 5 subs can b used

  20. derek pratt on March 31, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    i would like to c rule change so we can use 5 subs

  21. David on April 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Reading some many comments it’s getting a little unclear as to the exact definitions and differences between ‘Rolling Subs’ and ‘Reapeatable Subs’. Anyone got an official denfiniation as oppossed to their own individual meaning that they place on these words?

  22. michael madden. on April 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I think that 5 subs.should be allowed at ALL levels of football and also rolling subs,i think it would keep the squad far happier through more game time.

  23. Paul Chandler on April 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Rolling subs would not be ideal without limits, but to be able to make a specified number of substitutions from a specified number of substitutes would allow the teams 14th or 15th man to actually turn up to a game, rather than running a line and maybe getting 10 minutes at the end. All players know the pecking order in the team and the rolling subs – or at least allowing them back on again – would allow players more involvement, which might actually increase player numbers in these hard times.

  24. Andrew Stanley on April 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Total nonsense.

    3,000 votes.

    How many people play or administrate in local football.

    Awful idea by people with nothing better to think about.

  25. Fairyfeet on April 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    As a footie mum I think this is a great idea for juniors. I know it’s hard for coaches to keep everyone happy, but surely at this stage it’s about children having fun and learning how to play as a team and support each other? It’s very unfair that some children are continually left out, it ostracizes them from the team, so how do they become team players? I see the kids who turn up at every training session and game, and are sat at the sidelines because the favoured few have bothered to turn up for the match, but never attended for training. All the kids need encouraged or they are built up and knocked down, until they lose all their confidence. By the time they get to 16, they start to realise if they are good players or not, and it’s easier for them to accept that they may not be first choice for the starting 11.

  26. John O'Reilly on April 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I think more substitutes is a brilliant idea, especially for youth teams as it helps more players get a game and build there experience, but I don’t think rolling subs is a good idea as it makes it harder for the refs to keep track of who is in play and who isn’t.

  27. Steve Moores on April 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I am all for fun and enjoyment at junior level football. I run a local under 7`s team. I find if you have a 7 a side team with a permanent goalkeeper( a luxury i know) with 2 substitutes. All 8 out players can have 30 minutes game time. with changes at 10minutes, half time and 30 minutes. All player only stand on the sidelines for a maximum of 10 minutes each with this game plan.

    Keeping track of substitutions at the same time encouraging the players to develop is hard enough without rolling subs.

  28. R.TOMLIN on April 10, 2012 at 10:14 am


  29. Joe Playle on April 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Let’s get something striaght:

    Is this not already the situation in youth football? I run a school team and we use rolling sub’s already at Primary School level (U11’s)?

    And can someone clarify if this means:
    (a) Unlimited subsitutes (i.e. you can have as many people on the touchline ready to come on but once you are off, you’re off)
    (b) Unlimited substitutions (i.e. Roll on Roll off, come off, have a breather, come back on later – as many times as you like)
    (c) will there still be a limit on the amount of substitutes you can name on a teamsheet?

    My personal opinion would be to introduce an unlimited amount of substitutions, i.e. roll on roll off, as many times as you like, but only from a selected number of substitutes, I suggest 5.
    That way, a squad of 16 players can all play in an open age football 11v11 match, come off, come back on again, offers more chance for people to be involved, if there’s an injury, you can come off for a bit and see how it is, thereby not holding up the game.
    However, you will tend to have teams who are 1-0 up with a few minutes to go, abusing the system and time wasting by making a change everytime the ball goes out. The only way around that is to limit the amount of actual substitutions you can make – i.e. someone comes off, (1 sub), come back on for someone else (2 subs), another sub comes on (3 subs), another player comes back on (4 subs).
    You could limit the amount of substitutions to say 5 or 6, thereby restircitng the amount of players who can come off and back on again.

    For Youth Football – I personally believe an unlimited number of substitutions from a selected list of no more than 5 substitutes should be used in a single game for 11v11 football. That way, up to 16 players can be involved in any specific game, more time on the pitch to develop the players (it’s not all about results at that age!)

    As for Open Age football – where the scores matter a bit more to the competitors – The “Roll on Roll off” philosophy of coming off, and having the opportunity to come back on is a good one. Something would need to be introduced however to stop teams abusing the system and making a sub every time the ball goes out in the last few minutes to “time waste”.


  30. joe on April 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I am all for it, boys coming off can go back on in a different position, this keeps them interested, boys with a slight knock can go back on. Boys who have an slight injury will let you know if they think they can be put back on, otherwise they might play on. Boys knowing that after 3 subs have been put on know that they will not have any any involvement in a game when the subs have been made, I have plenty of reasons for supporting this

  31. wendy on April 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    …. ok, you have the maximum number of players on your team.
    Do you encourage more talented players to come along, then constantly drop less talented players and sub them in the hope that these players will just give up and leave.
    I dont see the sportsmanship here.

  32. ronnie whitton on July 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    originally from dundee , i have coached boys football in australia from under 10’s up to the present season under 18’s

    our rules have always been the same and are 5 rolling subs from under 6’s to u16’s
    at under 18 level we can name and use 5 subs but not interchange when a player comes off , they cant go back on

    this season has been very difficult for these players who sit on the bench and might only play last 15 mins , so i suggest rolling subs is the way to go

    to prevent time wasting refs dont allow subs on in last 5 mins of each half

    we also have a huge problem here in retaining players in the game when they get to 17 , 18
    after 18s the boys have to play senior football which is always a big step for some

    they become disillusioned with the game
    as senior football is 3 subs , no interchange

  33. mary on July 31, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I think that rolling subs is a great idea and it will make the game more tactical and also makes sure that on pitch discipline can be upheld, as an ill disciplined player can be removed for a cooling down period and then return to play when they have calmed down.
    It also means that all players get a chance to play and contribute to the teams success – making it a truly team game.

    Players would also learn to play more positions ,as the multi postion players is of more use to a squad than a one position wonder, who is off form – it would keep players on their toes to perform which has to be good for the team

  34. pam on August 16, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Although i agree that kids should enjoy football, can i also say that people give their time to train kids to play FOOTBALL, you will always have the ones that are good and have a good footballing mind, and sorry to say but the ones that come along who are not very good. We adults and those cghildren want to win, would u rather your child came on who is not good and basically caused that team to lose. I am 45 and when i was at school only the best got picked to play, either football netball, rugby hockey the list goes on, so why now shoud every Joe Bloggs have the right to play in a team. No matter what anyone says we go out to win and the kids are happy with that, loser because of the less talented players then surely that makes them feel less than adequate. Sorry but i think it needs to be said.!

  35. Ben Griffiths on February 26, 2013 at 11:58 am

    On reading these comments I agree with the chap who said about the 9 no players for the 7 a side team.You can do four lots of 10 min subs for two players at a time assuming the Goalkeeper is a permanent one.This as he says gives them all 30 mins each.I usually vary it but will inevitably leave the strongest team on for the last 10 mins.I have played football from 9 years old up until last season when I was 44 years old.For me the key is for kids to have fun.What I would say though fun is when you’re playing other kids of similar ability.Through life we’re always better at some things than others.Especially when it comes to sport.The majority of kids suss their level by the time they’re 13 in Football.Then if they don’t make the first school 11 they play for the second 11.If not either they get in to an alternative sport.The biggest problem is over possessive parents who see their kids through rose coloured glasses.Surely the best way is to have more smaller teams with one or two extra divisions for the players with less ability.They’ll still have great fun knowing they’re not the best in the world.No pressure either,that’s unless the parents think they’ve got the new Lionel Messi on their hands rather than realising their kids are like 95% of the rest just ok.Oh by the way my keeper just decided he wants to play outfield as well.Try working the sub equation out now & that’s just with 9 !!

  36. Tom on July 6, 2014 at 11:57 am

    To include rolling subs at u19/21 level is a mistake (We have just moved from 5 from 5 to 5 from 7 in the West of Scotland u21 league – that’ s enough subs!). Scenario: SCO Cup Final and 10mins to go and your team goes 1-0 up – how many subs do you think you can make in the last 10 mins of a match? Baring in mind I might only have one sub left that’s fit – what’s stopping me constantly taking the same player off and on again for the remaining mins of the game? Or are we heading towards American football here – I go 1-0 up and change 5 attacking players for 5 defensive to try and hold out to the end of the game – using my rolling subs continuously. Could become ugly to watch..

  37. Jeff Few on March 7, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    This should be brought in at all levels of non-renumarated football – ie all levels below which fans pay to watch. 14 players used maximum just like before, but subs can roll off and on.

Join the discussion