Don’t Believe Every Shout For Handball

Like thirty thousand others from our area, I went along to Wembley Stadium for Reading’s historic semi-final of the FA Cup against Arsenal.  I was asked after the game what I thought about all the shouts for handball, but high in the stands they were lost and to be honest, shouts for handball are so common place that they don’t even register.

Ask any referee and you will be told there are numerous shouts for handball every game, but most are without any foundation at all. Certainly I had my share at the weekend. Very often they are when the ball hits an opponent on the chest, the knee of other parts of the body other than the hand or arm. I recall a couple for instance at the weekend at which a defender played the ball with his shoulder, which raised shouts.

If we look at the Law it doesn’t say a lot; ‘A direct free kick is awarded if a player handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper inside his own penalty area).’ The interpretations in the Laws however elaborate a little more, for a start it says ‘handling the ball involves a deliberate act, making contact with the hand or arm.’ So we know that handling does include the arm (but not the shoulder). The key factor however, is the word deliberate.

Handball is one of only two of the ten offences punishable by a direct free kick that has to be deliberate. If, for instance, a player trips an opponent accidentally it is still a foul but handball is only an offence when it is deliberate in the referee’s opinion.

So how does a referee know whether a handball is deliberate or not, after all he is not a mind reader. Again there is some advice in the interpretations. Firstly, they say a referee must take into consideration, the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand). In other words, does the player move his hand towards the ball rather than the ball just hitting his hand or arm. I remember Steve Coppell, when one of his Reading players handled the ball in the penalty area, saying ‘it was just an involuntary movement.’ Maybe, but a referee will take that as deliberate.

There is another consideration the interpretations say the referee must take.  This is ‘the distance between the player and the ball.’ How far away is the opponent when he kicks the ball, does the player have a chance of getting out of the way. Sometimes a player is so close that he flinches and in doing so moves his arm, which the ball then hits. That is not the same as moving his hand or arm to play the ball.

It might also be a deflection or a bounce causing the ball to unexpectedly hit the arm. Not deliberate. An interesting comment in the interpretations is that ‘the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.’ However, the referee must be aware that players sometime spread themselves wide or high when they expect a ball to come in their direction.

Take, for example, players in the wall jumping up and raising their arms above their heads. You can’t exactly say that they move their hands towards the ball, but if it hits them that would still count as handball. I also have to admit that there are occasions when a deliberate handball takes place but the referee just doesn’t see it, you can’t see through people.

I reported earlier in the season that the International FA Board have formed two committees to look at certain aspects of the laws. One of these is handball. I can’t imagine what they will come up with, but I doubt if it will stop all the shouts.

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