One of the things that has niggled me for years is that players are not more honest. It stems I suppose from an incident many years ago when a player inside the goal area seemingly scored a goal and started to celebrate. However, I had spotted that he had deliberately knocked the ball down with this hand before kicking it in the back of the net and so I blew for the foul. His celebrations turned to remonstrations against my decision. I simply said to him, ‘You handled the ball; I know you handled the ball and you know you handled the ball’. He replied with a smile, ‘Fair enough ref but it was worth a try.’ No harm done then but at the end of the game the spectators heckled me off the pitch, still thinking that I had denied their team, what to them looked a perfectly good goal. This sort of thing happens all the time, players appealing for things like throw-ins, goal kicks, fouls, when they know full well that the decision should go the other way.
It was therefore with some delight that I recently watched a video of a top national match in which a player corrected a decision by the referee. This attacker was charging through the opponent’s penalty area with the ball at his feet, when with a defender in close attendance, the player fell heavily to the ground. The referee blew immediately and pointed to the penalty mark. The player however, got up and spoke to the referee upon which the referee changed his mind and gave a goal kick, the ball having run over the goal line. The player said afterwards that he told the referee that he had ‘contrived it slightly’. ‘I did look for contact,’ he said, ‘but then I noticed that the defender pulled out of the challenge. I fought with my conscience for a moment but I didn’t want to win that way.’
In view of my claim the other week in this column that this country has a greater sense of fair play than most others I’m sad to say that this was not in the English Premier League but in the German Bundesliga. What’s more the two teams involved, FC Nurnberg and SV Werder Bremen were in a relegation scrap so every goal was vital. Aaron Hunt the SV Werder Bremen player, may have been influenced by another ‘confession’ from one of the other team when the referee changed his mind earlier in the match. A player from both teams had stretched out a foot to try and play the ball, which went out over the goal line. After the referee had awarded a corner, an FC Nurnberg attacker admitted to the referee that he was the last one to touch the ball and the referee changed his mind. The actions of those two players are a credit to their clubs. The referee doesn’t always see everything and honesty in players can only lead to better decisions.
The other recent footballing ‘confession’ happened of course in the Arsenal v Chelsea game when referee Andre Mariner sent off Kieran Gibbs instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for what he saw as denying a goal by deliberate handball. Somewhat different of course but why Marriner refused to believe Oxlade-Chamberlain when he stepped forward and said ‘it was me’ we are unlikely to find out. However, one explanation bandied about that he couldn’t change his mind once he had made his decision is incorrect as shown by the Bundesliga decisions. Law five says that ‘the referee may change his decision on realising that it is incorrect, or at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant or fourth official, providing he has not restated play or terminated the match’.