PL ball boys, girls to stop returning balls directly to players

Premier League ball boys and girls have been told to stop returning balls to players following the introduction of a rule change designed to avoid touchline clashes and to prevent handing the home team an unfair advantage.

Sources have told ESPN that the change is not a direct consequence of the incident at the end of Coventry City’s recent FA Cup quarterfinal win against Wolves, when the Championship club’s manager Mark Robins was criticised by Wolves boss Gary O’Neil for confronting a ball-boy who delayed returning the ball to a player in the closing stages of the game.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno was also involved in a clash with a ball boy during the Premier League game against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium in December.

With the previous system of ball assistants being used to collect and return balls to players, the Premier League has now made the change amid concerns that the system could be used by the home team at the disadvantage of their opponents.

An amendment to Rule L.35 of the Premier League Handbook, which covers the multi-ball system, means that players must now claim the ball from pitchside cones when it goes out of play.

The rule now states that “Ball Assistants are only allowed to retrieve match balls and replace them on the vacant cones and are not permitted to return a ball directly to a player.”

In order to help speed up the game and avoid time-wasting, 14 balls — seven on each side — will now be available at the side of pitch, an increase of four from the previous system.

Ball assistants will be required to return a ball to a vacant cone when it goes out of play and ensure that they are not positioned next to the ball cones.

The Premier League has stated that ball assistants must sit behind pitchside advertising boards where possible.