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Football News: Referees interpretation of Handball in Soccer

Referees interpretation of Handball in Soccer
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Before anyone is too harsh on Jack Stephens in the Burnley v Southampton match, I'd like to highlight two things - Peter Crouch and handball. Peter Crouch fouls the opposition player on pretty much every header, but Referees (Refs) rarely call it. I can only presume they think he's tall and that's why he gets so far above everyone, but in actual fact, he pushes down on defenders to keep them down and give himself more air time.

Often, really obviously, by planting his hands on their shoulders. One or two Refs have picked up on it, but too few. Watch replays of goals or chances created by Crouch with his head throughout his professional career and you'll see it. Hands and arms on their shoulders or squarely in their backs or tugging their shirts to keep them grounded.

Some, like yesterday's, are harder to see but Crouch barely left the ground to head it so Stephens would've been able to reach it easily if he could jump freely. Yes, there's an argument that it's just good forward play, but it's a foul that Crouch seems to get away with more than others.

So that's why Jack Stephens' arms are up - he's gesturing to the Referee (Ref) to say he's being fouled. M.O.T.D. didn't show an angle from behind the player and one of Crouch's arms is hidden, but he's in tight behind Stephens. He's either got a handful of shirt or he's put an arm in his back and pushed him off balance to stop him jumping. Stephens clearly goes to jump, but if his boots aren't suddenly made of concrete, he's being held down.

As for handball, what's going on? The F.A. make the laws, Refs interpret and apply them. But all too often, we see interpretations becoming broader over time and things start to get muddled as some Refs drift further from the original law and others stick closer to it.

Fans at home aren't helped by pundits who will be just as fluid and introduce their own wording to justify or denounce decisions they agree or disagree with on a whim, like arms being in an 'unnatural position'.
Here's Law 12 of the FA's official rules:

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.

The following must be considered:
• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence
• touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc. ) is an offence
• hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc. ) is an offence

We're all relatively familiar with the wording, it's pretty clear, but interpretation has now created a grey area in respect of what action constitutes a handball. I'm sure we'll all agree that a defender who deflects a cross or shot with his arm when really close to the opponent kicking the ball, shouldn't be punished unless he's deliberately spread his arms like a goalkeeper trying to make himself a bigger target to miss.

Whilst that is ball to hand, he shouldn't be allowed to but his arms out pre-empting where he thinks the ball is going, as this shows deliberate intent on his part to use his arms to deflect the ball if it comes that way.

So what of yesterday's decision? Was Stephens deliberately trying to handle the ball? We have the benefit of slow motion replays, a Ref doesn't, but it's ball to hand, the ball is headed in close proximity and although Stephens' arms are up, naturally or otherwise, that doesn't automatically mean handball.

The question for the Ref is whether it was a deliberate act to handle the ball. He's not waving his arms about or reaching for the cross, he's not even jumping, he's stuck on the ground. He doesn't follow the ball with his eyes or head once it's beaten him as his main focus is highlighting to the Ref that he's been fouled.

He's looking at the Ref and arguably, wouldn't be anticipating a knock-down header coming back in his direction. Surely if he wanted to stop Crouch's header with his hand, he would try to follow its flight, or move his arms to anticipate where it's going to go.

Instead, he doesn't follow the flight and he's holding his hands up looking at the Ref, seemingly oblivious to the risk that Crouch will head it back his way. This was in the middle of the area, so a knockdown header back in that direction, to no-one running on to the ball, seems the lowest percentage play possible. He has certainly deliberately raised his hands but is that to handle the ball or attract the Ref's attention to the foul Crouch has committed?

Only one of those answers is plausible to me in this instance so I'd be interested to hear why the Ref felt differently. What had he seen that made it appear a deliberate attempt to handle the ball? Or rather, is it his understanding of the handball rule and interpretation of its application in play that's different?

Was he influenced by his failure to award Burnley the first half penalty (which clearly was a penalty) - not consciously necessarily, but being aware he may have made a big mistake; making him hyper-sensitive to making another but ironically making that possibility greater? Would the decision have been different if Stephens' arms were out in a natural jumping position away from his body?

By contrast, take one of those instances where a player miscontrols the ball or it's deflected up and hits his arm or hand. It's not deliberate miscontrol, nor handball in most instances so should play be stopped for a free kick or not. I'm sure you can all think of instances when this has happened. I'm sure equally you will be able to recall instances where play has been allowed to continue as well as times where the Ref has called handball.

It seems to me now that some Refs are assessing whether the player who has made contact with his hand is gaining an advantage from that and then determining the size of that advantage to influence their decision, rather than asking the correct question whether a handball was deliberate or not. Out on the pitch, an example like this one can really be a 50-50 call depending on field position and flow of the game.

Surely the whole purpose of the handball law and the way it is drafted is to not punish players for accidental handball, whether they gain advantage from it or not, as we all have arms we use for different reasons in different ways. If a player is deliberately using his hands to gain an advantage; that's where the offence occurs. Yes there will always be instances where it's not so clear cut and the Ref needs to interpret the flow.

It would just be better for us all if there was a consistent view, with Refs perhaps regularly convening and watching replays of incidents they've come across to advise on the correct decision in that instance so they all learn from each other. Not only handballs but all such incidents. Just a thought.

Written by figodasilva February 03 2019 14:27:02


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