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Footballers’ Heights Researched In Debate Over Goal Sizes

Your old football collectible cards could help researchers figure out if the goal posts need to be shifted to account for taller players.

Researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom are looking into the evidence to support or dismiss calls to increase the size of the goals in football.

The professional game was established in the mid-nineteenth century and it is believed players have become generally larger since then.

According to the laws which govern the game, made by the Football Association in 1863, the goalposts should be eight yards (7.2 metres) apart. When crossbars were made mandatory in 1882 the rules stated it should be eight feet (2.44 metres) from the ground.

Researchers are looking into the size of footballers and goalposts. Image: AAP

While the data for modern-day players is available, researchers need the public’s help for statistic on players prior to 1950.

Old collectibles could be the key to finding the heights of professional players between 1870 and 1950 — as they can usually be found on football cards, club year books and publications.

“We need the help of football fans everywhere to uncover this data,” said Dr James Reade, a sports economist at the University of Reading.

“The more heights we collect, the clearer we’ll be on whether players really have got taller, and by how much.”

Australian researchers from the University of South Australia, as well from Ohio State University, are helping to collect data of professional players.

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Professor Adrian Bell,  a historian and Dean for Prosperity and Resilience at the University of Reading, said that while modern-day football is a billion dollar business, laws dictating goal sizes are from the 19th century.

“We suspect that footballers’ body shapes have changed, with more emphasis on fitness and diet, as well as growth in average height in the general population,” he said.

“But up until now, this has never properly been studied among a representative sample of professional footballers.”

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The data collected will enable researchers to compare the sizes of players over the years and determine whether players really have gotten bigger.

But it will also give an insight into how player shapes have changed throughout the eras, for example, have midfielders become shorter over time.

The research will determine the changing sizes of players throughout the eras. Image: AAP

While the thought of changing something so important may trouble football fans, Reade pointed out the game had seen a number of rule changes over the years.

Sepp Blatter, former President of FIFA, publicly floated the idea of increasing the goals by 50 centimetres in width and 25 centimetres in height while in the top job in 1996. The the idea was quickly scrapped after opposition.

“Making goals bigger to increase the number of goals scored in matches has been a serious suggestion in recent years,” Reade said.

“If governing bodies do want to use changing player sizes as justification, it’s important that decisions are based on solid data.”

Data submissions can be made here.