A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Howard Webb’s new job as Technical Director of the PGMOL, I understand now that he also has a sideline. Together with another former Premier League referee, Dermot Gallagher, he will be viewing all the Premier League games that are going to be shown on Match of the Day. They will be looking to highlight any incidents that are likely to cause controversy on the programme and give some views, off screen, as far as the Laws as concerned. Regular readers of this column may remember that I made the suggestion in a column at the end of last season of some similar arrangement due to the BBC pundits’ lack of understanding of the Laws of the Game. I know the producers of the programme have seen the column but I can’t claim that this is the reason it has been introduced but it is a move I welcome. I don’t know how it works, whether the ex-referees put forward views on incidents that they feel might raise comments or they wait for questions to come from the pundits? I say this because there was an incident on last Saturday’s programme which I feel the referees’ ‘panel’ might not have felt worth explaining but which had Gary Lineker crying out for an answer. It was simply a situation where a referee had played advantage and it didn’t work because the players made a mess of it.
Playing advantage has been in the Law book certainly ever since I started refereeing so it’s not something new. There was however a change to the Law in 1996. Prior to that time, if a referee decided to play advantage he ‘could not revoke his decision if the presumed advantage was not realised’. It now says ‘A referees allows play to continue when the team against which an offence has been committed will benefit from such an advantage but penalises the original offence if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time. The first thing to appreciate is that gaining an advantage doesn’t just mean the team offended against, retains possession of the ball. They have to be in position to benefit from it, for example a chance of an immediate promising attack.
To get back to the referee’s ability to call the ball back if the advantage doesn’t materialise and give a fee kick for the original offence. We have to be clear what that means. It’s not if the team offended against does not score. I watched a young referee who played an advantage to leave a player with the opportunity of an almost open goal. The player however, blasted the ball over the bar and the referee then brought the ball back for the original foul. The idea is not to give players another chance when they have made a mess of the advantage given. It is where circumstances outside the player’s control prevent him from benefiting from the advantage.
Now the big question, the question that Gary Lineker kept asking – how long can the referee wait until he decides the advantage hasn’t worked and he stops play to penalise the original foul? ‘It doesn’t say it anywhere in the Laws’ he cried. The odd thing is that when the law was changed it did give a time limit – three seconds. That was removed as perhaps it was thought to be too prescriptive but the time can now be found in the interpretations in the back of the book as – a few seconds. In other words we are talking about seconds not minutes as can happen in rugby.
I’m sure that if Lineker had asked one of the programmes new advisors on the Laws they would have told him that.