Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)

Q: When is a penalty not a penalty? A: When it doesn’t look like one.

In these crazy, mixed-up times, even Joey Barton is calling for video technology to be introduced into the English top flight. I agree {shudder}, I’m all for it. But in its absence officials still need to make decisions based upon what they see.

Used to be that what was a freekick outside the box was a penalty inside it. But a combination of the heightened importance of such a decision in providing an unchallenged attempt on goal, changing a game and/or reducing the number of players on a team has completely altered that. These days officials seem unwilling to give penalties unless there is little doubt in their minds. But even when they do, and even with the backing of second, third, fourth (and perhaps not) fifth or sixth match officials they still get things wrong.

Human error has a part to play, but there’s another thing going on here. A cold, hard, case of The Flops. That is attempting to make and official give a penalty by overacting, going down too lightly or just absolutely cheating.

Now I don’t wish to call into question the integrity of many of the football players I watch and some of whom I dearly support, but it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that sometimes some players go down a bit easy. Afterall, if the Lehmann vs Drogba pantomime spectacular told us anything, it was that our professional players have more than an inkling of how to make the most of a bit of contact. They’re not alone either. A couple of years ago, when I still actively played Saturday League, some players actively practised (albeit in jest) dives in training. Equally, type “Gerrard/Rooney/Walcott/Lampard dive” into YouTube and see what you get.

It might be suggested that The Flops goes on quite a lot. And it might be equally refuted. Sitting at home, and even in the stands, it can be hard to have a full appreciation of the sheer speed, and therefore, colliding forces, impact, centres of balance and  – even – the intentions to fall to the ground of our top, top players. Be that as it may, our officials still need to make decisions. Even when not in the best position, and at times further from the incident in question than some fans.

After the defeat against Fulham on Monday, Arsene Wenger responded to whether he agreed if the claim by Gervinho of being fouled by Phillipe Senderos was a penalty:

200%…anyway, we know we don’t get penalties. We had one against…err, at home in the last game against QPR, we had one today and [they’re] never given anyway.

But we (Arsenal) do get penalties. Walcott earned and van Persie converted one against Aston Villa on 21st December. But it was obvious Theo was fouled. Tugged back plain as day, and he didn’t need to hit the deck to make his point. Gervinho was clipped by Senderos, yes. And van Persie was bundled by Senderos…yes. But while in the second situation it’s feasible the referee Lee Probert was unsighted, in the first he may have been “turned off” by Gervinho’s fall.

And can we blame him, his officials or colleagues if that’s ever the case? Surely it’s far easier to forgive them for such missed decisions if  they’re not 100% certain a player is impeded or an indiscretion occurred. Even if a foul is committed, overacting it might achieve the reverse of what was hoped for. And even when decisions are given it’s not always clean cut.

Just last night, Man City won 3-0 against Liverpool and were awarded a penalty. Have a look. Can you tell me with 100% certainty that it is or isn’t one? You could argue that a 6’2″ man of about 14st (I’m estimating here, as City’s player page omits Toure’s weight) shouldn’t go down that easy. This might also be called “The Drogba Offence”. You may even speculate that having sprinted the length of the half to get there, Yaya felt it better to go down under any contact and get a penalty to potentially kill off Liverpool.

The alternative is to stay up and shoot from an awkward angle under pressure. With 17 minutes left to play, and his team just down to 10 men. You might equally argue that there was enough – even untintentional – contact from Skrtel at the speed Yaya Toure was travelling to send him tumbling. But you’d have to have a higher grasp of the physics behind such collisions than I.

What you can’t possibly argue is that the referee (who is nowhere near as quick as Yaya Toure, and so further down the pitch), or even the nearest assistant referee, can say with absolute certainty that it was or wasn’t the correct decision. But at full speed, and from a bit of a distance it looks like one. Doesn’t it?

And this is the point. For I think the tide should be changing in Premier League football: In the absence of absolute certainty, or even the degrees of certainty to which video technology would allow us to reach (and which I hope very quickly makes my following comment irrelevant) penalty decisions are all down to whether they appear to be one. In the past players could play to this a little with The Flops: ‘making the best of it’, exaggerating and ‘simulation’. But these days it might be best to try something slightly different. You know, players may actually benefit – like Theo did – from attempting to stay on their feet. And as a result we may lose the terror of The Flops, while maintaining a modicum of sanity.

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Author: AllTheSkill

One time fleet-footed wing-wizard. Now weekend super-sub, and occasional blogger.

4 thoughts on “Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)”

  1. Problem might be that arbitrary white line which defines the area. Just ditch automatic penalties for fouls inside the box unless the ref believes that the foul denied a goalscoring opportunity. And if someone does something like this (Suarex handball off the line)

    then just give the goal as well as sending the player off.

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    1. Oof, but once you’re in the realms of fouls not being fouls in certain areas of the pitch (officially) a whole can of worms springs open. Say you hack down a player who is facing away from goal just inside a packed penalty area. That would not be a foul because it doesn’t stop a goal scoring opportunity? Bit odd.

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  2. It’d be a foul – but just a free kick from where it happened. The ‘victim’ would have no greater incentive to dramatically fall the the ground than he would have done if the same incident had occurred just a foot or two further out (outside the box).

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  3. (I’m proposing the possibility of direct free kicks from inside the box, rather than a full on penalty each and everytime).

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