Last week I wrote about the goal that shouldn’t have been allowed for Chelsea against Cardiff. Another goal that weekend that shouldn’t have counted took place in the Bundesliga, during the Bayer Leverkusen v Hoffenheim match. From a corner Stephen Klessling of Bayer headed towards the Hoffenheim goal. For a brief moment he held his head in frustration as the ball seemed to go into the side netting but then it appeared in the back of the goal. It was the goalkeeper’s turn to hold his head in his hands and a defender lashed out at the ball to show his annoyance at losing a goal. The television commentator congratulated Klessling on his goal and Bayer taking a two goal lead, while all the players went quietly back to the centre circle to restart with a kick off. But the commentator looking at his replay monitor, then discovered that the ball had actually gone in the side netting but somehow like a conjurer’s illusion, it had gone through it into the goal. Even if anyone could have then got this message to the referee it would have been too late. A referee can’t change his mind once play has restarted.
Presumably, this couldn’t happen now in the English Premier League because the clubs have goal line technology and unless the ball goes between the goalposts and under the crossbar it wouldn’t register on the referee’s computerised wristband. It’s interesting to contemplate what any referee would do in these circumstances faced with the fact that the ball was in the back of the net. It may be asked why the hole wasn’t spotted before the game for we always see the nets being inspected prior to the march. Well I actually had the opposite experience last season when refereeing Reading FC academy against Oxford United. A United player’s shot seemed to go into the goal but then it was seen bouncing on behind the goal. I was perfectly placed to see that the ball went through a hole in the back of the net. My assistant however thought it had missed the goal and flagged for a goal kick. This led the Reading players to think he had flagged for offside but it was quickly sorted out. The point however, is that I had inspected the nets myself rather than as usual leaving it to my assistants, so I knew there was no hole when we started but somehow the ball had got through. It can happen.
Someone told me recently that walking through his local park he spotted a referee inspecting the pitch well before kick-off time. ‘I was well impressed,’ he said. When he came back later, he discovered it was a girl’s match, ‘I was even more impressed,’ he said. It was a nice comment but in fact all referees are expected to inspect pitches and goals well before any game, irrespective of level or gender of the game and certainly I always do it. The Bundesliga match took me back to similar situation I experienced many years ago in a Reading League match with the home team claiming the ball had gone through the side netting. I disagreed and afterwards in the bar, the home secretary berated me for what he considered a terrible mistake. 25 years later I was having dinner with my brother and his family and one of his daughters who worked with this club secretary told me, ‘he still thinks you are a rotten referee’. At least I can now point out that if I did make a mistake, it’s something that can happen even at the top level with a top referee and anyhow, isn’t 25 years a little long to bear a grudge.