Because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen

After Reading’s match at Crystal Palace, the only topic of conversation amongst Royals’ players, management and fans was of course the disallowed goal in the dying minutes of the game. According to manager Brian McDermott, the referee told him it was because of a foul on the Palace goalkeeper. I wasn’t at the game and although I watched the incident on the BBC Football League Show, it all happened too quickly and there was no replay, unlike Match of the Day where they replay every controversial incident several times. This means that I can’t really comment on the correctness or otherwise of the referee’s decision. It is though, I feel, worth reviewing what happens in the goalmouth at virtually every corner these days. There is of course a great deal of toing and froing, holding and pulling, which the referee has to keep an eye on and then there is another little ploy dreamt up by the coaches; an attacker standing in front of the goalkeeper. For the referee, this is a particular nightmare. In the Laws of the Game, in the guidance to referees, it says that all players have a right to their position on the field of play, being in the way of an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent. This suggests that if a player takes up a position in front of the goalkeeper at a corner kick, there is a little a referee can do; each player is entitled to his own space. However, it also says that it is an offence to restrict the movement of a goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him, e.g. at a corner kick. The question that has to be asked is why are they standing in front of the goalkeeper if not to restrict his movement. Very often when the corner is taken, the player moves away from the goalkeeper so not committing an offence, but he has created aggravation. Defenders try to get between the player and the goalkeeper with yet more distraction for the referee. There are many ways in which players can commit offences on the goalkeeper in these situations that are sometimes missed but sometimes spotted by the referee. Southbanker in his Post column said, apparently the referee was the only one at Selhurst Park who saw an offence. Well quite frankly he may have been. It has certainly happened to me on more than one occasion and there have been many instances where this has been illustrated. I recall for instance a corner in the European Cup in Portugal, when an assistant referee flagged for handball in the penalty area, which only he had seen. The defending side became so animated that red cards followed. The television company finally found a camera angle that proved the assistant was absolutely right. Our training team has a classic video of a Chelsea v Liverpool match, which we show to trainee referees. The ball is bouncing about in the penalty area with a mass of players milling around. After the referee has blown his whistle, we ask what offence has anyone seen? I have never yet seen anyone get the right answer. When we replay the action in slow motion we can point out Didier Drogba pulling down the jersey of Pepe Reina, the Liverpool goalkeeper, preventing him from getting off the ground. By the time the referee has blown his whistle, the ball, which everybody else’s eyes are following, is no where near the incident and all the Chelsea players raise their arms in disbelief at the referee’s decision. I guarantee that the referee was the only person in the ground that saw the offence that day. I don’t know whether the referee at Crystal Palace got it right but just because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

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