FROM next season, managers of teams playing in the Cambridgeshire FA County League – from the Senior A division downwards – will be able to use all five of their substitutes, and bring them on and off as many times as they like.

Described as a "massive step forward for the grassroots game" by Phil Mitcham of the Cambs County League, the new rule was voted in at last week's annual general meeting - and on June 12, at the Peterborough & District League's AGM, the committee will be encouraging its member clubs to follow suit and vote 'yes' too.

Under the 'repeat substitution' rule, there will be no limit to the number of times a player can leave and return to the field of play, meaning more squad players will be involved in games on a more regular basis. Mitcham said: "Previously, open-age amateur men's football teams could name up to five substitutes, but could only use three of them. That meant some players did get on the field of play. If that was something that regularly happened, it could have led to them leaving their clubs and ultimately dropping out of the game.

"This trial scheme will mean all five substitutes can be used during the match which means more chances for players to play."

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which sets the laws of the game, agreed to the experiment following a submission from the FA. If the year-long trial is successful, the pilot scheme will be extended for another season. As the Premier divisions of the Cambs and Peterborough Leagues play at Step 6, they will not be affected. Cambs FA business services manager Gerry Daish told The Hunts Post: "The FA made the rule and each County league will make its own decision on whether to adopt it. There was a show of hands at our AGM and there was a clear majority in favour of it.

"Once a player has been substituted he will automatically become a substitute himself and can rejoin the game at any time."

One manager who will have to operate under the new rule is Fenstanton's Dom Moody. His team won the Cambs Senior B title last season and will begin next season in the Senior A division.

Moody told The Hunts Post: "I can see what they're trying to do, but it could end up like the NFL and the American football league."

Fenstanton completed a double last week when they beat Fulbourn Instsitute Reserves 2-0 to win the Cambs FA Percy Oldham Cup. Moody continued: "In a big game like that we were able to name five substitutes but two were always going to miss out. The rule may keep players interested - but what's to stop teams bringing on big players for corners and then bringing them off again."

For that matter, what's to stop managers from making a series of substitutions to waste time at the end of a match - or having a specialist penalty taker on the bench? This is a rule that could completely change the way the game is played at Step 7 and below.

"Referees will be well trained and always have had the final say on what happens on the pitch," said Daish, addressing those concerns. "If the referee thinks something is not in the spirit of the game, he can to act.

"That's not a new rule - referees have always had that power."