I GHOSTED referee Graham Poll’s autobiography and a second book, about football issues. We’re currently writing a novel together … except that I’ve stopped talking to him.
He thinks Grant Holt should have been red-carded for the lunge at Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet which earned a yellow card.
Another book what I have wrote (anyone else remember Ernie Wise?) is an adult literacy tome of 11 interviews with football folk. The young prospect I included for the 2006 publication was a kid called Craig Gardner. I’m not talking to him either, after he converted Sunderland’s penalty.
But arguments about events at the Stadium of Light are not helped by silly conspiracy theories. The idea, propagated on a message board, that Chris Foy and his assistants were corrupt is as daft as the one about the Americans faking the moon landings.
The ignorant bleat of newly promoted clubs is: “The authorities don’t want us in the Premier League”. But come on, think that one through. What do the conspiracists think happened? Richard Scudamore sat down with referees and said: “Make sure everything goes against Norwich”? It’s barmy.
So let’s start a rational debate by getting the Laws of the Game right.
Despite the widely held belief that if a goalkeeper handles the ball outside his area it is a mandatory red card, it isn’t. Like any handball, it isn’t a mandatory card of any colour.
Bunn was sent off because Foy believed he had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity by committing an offence (handball). He will be banned for one game.
As with the handball ruling against Sebastien Bassong, for Foy to be right, the handball had to be deliberate. Handball is now the only offence for which intent is necessary.
So, with my obvious pro-City bias, I’d say that there was no possibility that either Bunn or Bassong wanted to make illicit contact with the ball. But… here’s the problem. Guidance to refs says that if a player jumps with his arms up or out, to make himself bigger, he has made a deliberate movement and so, if the ball then strikes an arm, it is handball.
And, if I am honest, if Mignolet and Cuellar had done what Bunn and Bassong did, I’d want two handball verdicts. And, in the case of the goalkeeper, I’d be screaming for a sending off.
Before the Bassong incident, Steven Fletcher was in an offside position. But he wasn’t committing the offence of offside, and the assistant referee was entirely correct not to flag.
Since 2005, interfering with play has meant touching the ball. Interfering with an opponent means stopping the opponent from being able to play the ball. Both definitions are set out within the Laws of the Game booklet. There are other, common sense, meanings of the word “interfering”, but the only ones which apply are those I have stated.
It is astonishing that so many don’t know the Laws. Even Chris Hughton talked about Fletcher being offside. I blame pundits like Alan Hansen, who has spent the eight years since the definitions were changed moaning: “Nobody understands offside these days”. Well, Alan, it’s your job to understand it and inform your viewers.
Assistant ref Peter Bankes was the man who got that decision right – before deciding that the ball rolling off Bassong’s chest and along his arm was handball. Then, in the second half, it was Bankes who did not tell Foy (on their walkie-talkie system) that Danny Rose’s handball was inside the area rather than outside.
I must be the only Norwich fan who can understand that error. Rose was jumping forward when he handled, and landed outside the area. Bankes, in his first season on the Premier League list, just made a mistake or wasn’t sure enough to say “penalty”.
We all see refereeing decisions through the prism of our passion. But, no matter how much we instinctively wince (or worse) whenever a decision goes against us, the fact is that refereeing has improved markedly since officials went professional.
Match assessors now use ProZone analysis of incidents. The latest figures vouch that refs are getting 96 per cent of major decisions – goals, penalties, red cards etc – right. That’s up from 92 per cent earlier in the season and a much higher rate of accuracy than any manager, player, pundit or message board moaner.
Aberrations like Mark Halsey not seeing Callum McManaman of Wigan clattering the left leg of Newcastle’s Massadiao Haidara are just that – aberrations, deviations from the norm. Most games, even last weekend, pass without a major refereeing controversy.
Anyhow, the important thing about the match at Sunderland was not that big calls went against Norwich, but that the manager and team did not let those decisions derail our season.
Instead of railing and ranting, our buttoned-up manager concentrated on the job in hand and ensured his team did too.
It must have been some half-time team talk, because with ten men and a third choice keeper, City produced one of the greatest defensive displays of all time. The discipline, concentration, effort and execution were exemplary.
I’d put it alongside the implacable defiance demonstrated by Darren Kenton, Malky Mackay, Craig Fleming and Adam Dury at Molineux in the play-off second leg in 2002.
And perhaps Sunday’s significance was greater, because we are living through a period which could determine City’s status for a generation.
If Sunderland had won, Norwich would now be 15th, with confidence crushed. As it is, it is Sunderland who are 15th, four points above the drop zone and with belief of supporters and probably players deflated.
As I have said on this site, Norwich will always have to chisel out every point in the Premier League and must treat every point won away from Carrow Road as a triumph.
I hope and pray City never again have to fight for a point in such daunting circumstances, but I take enormous pride and assurance from the fact that, collectively and individually, they stood so steadfastly and carried the club we care about one giant step closer to the finishing line.
valerie Rogers says
Very good article. I think Chris Hughton is an excellent manager and always gives rational interviews to the press which can only enhance the image og Norwich City
Andrew Gillie says
At the game, and full of NCFC passion, I was enraged by the decisions. In the cold light of day, and seeing MOTD highlights, I accept Foy got Bunn and Bassong decisions right. We should have had a penalty for Rose handball, and Holt a very lucky boy not to have seen red.Best aspect of the day? A magnificent performance by our 10 men. OTBC!
Jim Davies says
Well argued, Mick, but I have to take issue with you on a couple of points:-
1.As you rightly say, handball has to be deliberate. In the Bassong instance, he played the ball with his chest, his left arm was out for balance, but slightly behind him, and the ball rolled across his chest and on to his arm, therefore not deliberate handball, and therefore not a penalty.
2. Danny Rose did not end up outside the penalty area, he ended up on the line, with the ball striking his outstretched arm well inside the area. If the offence occurs on the line, then it is deemed within the penalty area (as the touchlines are deemed to be part of the pitch). Therefore the linesman (I refuse to call them “assistant referees”) should have awarded the penalty.
James Christopher says
Thank you Mick for re-stating the laws of the game so eloquently. The damage the motd pundits do to the public’s, and children’s in particular, understanding of the rules of our great game is a disgrace. I believe that the likes of Hansen and Shearer either don’t fully understand the handball rule, or choose to muddy the waters for the sake of ‘entertainment’ and controversy. It’s similar to the ‘he was sneezed on, so has a right to go down’ argument – it creates ambiguity where there should be clarity; dishonesty where we need honesty. Much as it pains me to agree with you Mick (from a green and yellow perspective), your assessment of each incident from Sunday is also correct. We have to applaud human, fallible, referees who are now working at mechanistic levels of accuracy in their decisions. But then again applauding officials who do a virtually impossible job, doesn’t ‘entertain’ does it..?
David Smith says
Sorry Mick, I have to heartily disagree with you on both the Bunn and Bassong decisions. Video replays showed (and, though Foy didn’t have the benefit of video, it didn’t seem to affect his sense of certainty in making his decisions) that, in both cases, the ball struck the chest/abdomen BEFORE striking the arm. Surely there can be no better indicator of lack of intent to handle the ball than playing the ball first with chest or abdomen. My biggest gripe with Foy is that, like the Turkish referee who red-carded Nani, he acts so quickly and with such “certainty” to take the contest away from the two teams, that he makes himself the story of the game. Why not give himself a few seconds to consider whether any offense was even committed and, if so, whether any particular shade of card is mandated. He gave a very firm impression of “playing to the crowd”.
Tim Dawson says
Sorry Mick but i stick by my angry views on sunday night, once again Norwich are punished by the officials, now whether the likes of Foy and Clattenburg are corrupt or just completely inept im not sure, but i know if i couldnt do my job properly id get the sack !!
I take your point on all three issues however I will never accept that the bigger clubs would have had the same outcome.Norwich city always seem to be on the receiving end of all the questionable decisions.We may get one pen given for every 20 possibles yet concede any time an opponent gets nudged .
Ben Drew says
Err Bunn chested the ball away. It was a brilliant piece of goalkeeping! The ban should be appealed.
Unmentioned in this article is that an attacking player in offside position is not offside when he receives the ball directly from a defending player, which is what occurred immediately prior to the Norwich keeper’s handling of the ball that resulted in his being sent off.
John Lovejoy says
Another sensible article Mick. Ref had no choice with either Bunn or Bassong because their arms were up. Deliberate handball in the laws of the game. They really should’ve spotted the handball from Rose was in the box though – perhaps an element of home crowd influence came into that one.
Conspiracy theorists are, as ever, deluded.
Jim Davies says
Peter, the reason no-one has mentioned the fact that “an attacking player is not offside when he receives the ball directly from a defending player” is because no-one is saying Danny Graham was offside in the Bunn incident. He was offside (and interferring with play by going towards the ball) when Bassong was adjudged to have handled.
Tim Dawson says
It doesnt matter if Bunns arms were on top of his head he didnt touch the ball with his arm !!!
The reason his arms were raised was to keep them out of the way of the ball, he isnt made of lego they arent detachable!
Grr some people make me sooooo angry…….
Russell S. says
It’s been done a hundred times in the press already but I couldn’t resist it – Tim Dawson: hot, cross and Bunn.
The ref’s performance was as unconvincing as Alan Pardew’s recently acquired facial hair.
With City’s and Wigan’s respective bad and good luck on Sunday, our imminent trip to the DW is looking like a season-defining match-up. Extra shin-pads should be packed for that.
Tim Dawson says
Ha ha that did make me smile Russell. god forbid its Mr Oliver or Mr Ilderton at Wigan !!!!
Yes but no but…
One needs to look at the refereeing across the course of the season – and perhaps back to last season as well.
The penalty at West Ham and the penalty against QPR are two examples that spring to mind.
And the arguments to defend refereeing bias make no sense. People like Graham Poll argue on the one hand that they do favour the ‘big teams’ because of the crowd and their fear of adverse reaction in the press, and on the other that referees are not influenced in favour of the ‘big teams’.
Which ironically is the same process of denying the obvious that those claiming the moon landings happened – yes we have destroyed all the original video, yes the video that exists breaks the laws of physics, we don’t need to explain the anomalies regarding the shadows and perspectives, you just have to take our word for it because we have these bits of rock.
And it should be noted that after the West Ham game, MOTD had a piece about odd refereeing decisions that day, which concluded by saying, ‘yes the referees got all those decisions wrong but thankfully it didn’t change the result for the teams involved.’
None of the ‘big teams’ maybe….
Talking of appeals – I don’t think Bunn’s red card would be overturned – the video evidence is unclear so if the ref saw it as being a handball denying a goalscoring opportunity we should accept the one game ban (Wigan?) and move on.
Typical journo claptrap as usual from Mr D glad I don’t waste my hard earned cash on anything you write for. 2 very debatable decisions followed by a clear cut penalty not being awarded.
I pride myself with completely disagreeing with everything Mick Denis says. Even when I am wrong and he right, which is often the case.
Never read a bigger load of twaddle in my life – if interfering with play is a very definition that requires you to touch the ball, then how on earth are any offside decisions ever given?! Surely that means at least 80% of all offside flags are wrong as the flag usually goes up before the striker touches the ball!
Morally I think it wrong that we persist in this narrow definition anyhow. You say Fletcher didn’t interfere, I say if Fletcher isn’t there then Bassong has no need to play the ball (he can let it run through to Camp) and thus no handball occurs. Which is the more logical definition? If the ref followed the laws of the game, then I say the law’s an a*se…
As Cloughie said, “if he’s not interfering with play, then what’s he doing on the pitch?!”
David Smith says
Further comment on the handball controversy in general. For there to be a handball offense, the ball must strike any part of the arm below the shoulder AND the player must have intended to use his arm/hand to control the ball. In general, the first part of the inquiry is much easier than the second (though we’ve all seen instances where the referee believed he saw the arm/hand strike the ball but was, in fact, wrong).
Turning to intent: there are multiple potential indicators of intent, all depending on the context in which the incident occurs. One of those possible indicators is that the player has his arms raised. Apparently the referees have been given guidance that raised arms is an indicator of intent to commit handball.
However, enough of us who have played and/ or watched football for years understand that it can be entirely natural for a player challenging quickly for the ball to have his arms spread high or wide with NO intent whatsoever to handle the ball. Referees, however, seem to have seized on the guidance given them and are awarding free-kicks and penalties right, left and center, knowing they can always say “I was simply following the guidance”.
Mick seems also to have fallen into this trap. Remember, guidance is only guidance and not a substitute for reasoned judgment based on observation of the incident itself and consideration of ALL relevant factors.
Go back to video of the Bunn incident. Can even Chris Foy doubt that Mark Bunn is aware that he is not permitted to deliberately handle the ball once he is outside his penalty area. Bunn also knows that if he intentionally handles the ball outside the area, he will probably be adjudged to have unlawfully deprived his opponent of a goal-scoring opportunity and be red-carded. That, in and of itself, almost proves that Bunn had no intent to handle the ball outside the area.
But there’s more! Bunn came out for the ball with his arms held high (remember the referee’s guidance?) but that was clearly with an intent to AVOID playing the ball with his arms and, instead, to play it with his stomach or chest. In fact, he did what he intended. He played the ball with his stomach/chest and only then did the ball subsequently strike his right arm.
Had Chris Foy allowed himself a few moments to consider the entire context and all relevant factors, he might have come to the correct conclusion but he had that damned “guidance” that he knew he could rely on and avoid criticism by his assessors ( if not by the football-watching public at large.
Determining intent in these circumstances is not always easy but let’s permit referees to use common sense first and “guidance” only later.
Matt H says
I had 2 issues with this, the fact that Danny Rose never left the area has already been covered. For the offside incident with the penalty the statement “interfering with play has meant touching the ball” isn’t exactly correct. Although that is implied in the rules there is also an example where a player can be penalised before touching the ball if no team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball, which was the situation here where Fletcher made an attempt to get a ball no other Sunderland player could realistically reach. I believe FIFA are going to tidy-up this particular law which would be useful.
Also Fletcher seemed to make an attempt to grab Bassongs shirt, so interfering with an opponent. Chances are it made no difference but the attempt in itself should be enough to draw the flag.
Mike C says
The ultimate irony is that Bunn, whose alleged handball was seen by the referee, will be suspended for the Wigan game, but our opponents will probably play an individual whose knee-high, and very close to career-ending, challenge was also seen by an official. Go figure!
Mick dennis says
To further clarify: the definition of “interfering with play” might defy commonsense, but it is the FIFA definition, introduced in 2005 to stop too many offsides. Assistants sometimes flag before a player touches the ball when it is clear he is going to do so — when, for instance, he is running through on his own, or there is a danger of him clattering the goalkeeper. But I recently attended a training session for assistants (so that I would understand their job better) and it was drummed home that the most common mistake is not, as pundits say, being late with a flag, but being too early: flagging before it is certain a player will touch the ball and commit the offence.
On David Smith’s thoughtful contribution above: “guidance” to referees is more than gentle advice. When PGMOL officials get guidance from above, it is an instruction.
For the record, I don’t think Bunn or Seb intended to handle the ball. But in both cases I’d have screamed for them to be penalised if they were Sunderland players, so I understand how officials — honest, neutral arbiters — came to the conclusion that the arm movements of Bunn and Seb constituted deliberate movements which caused offences.
I also believe in the moon landings, by the way.
On the “big clubs get the decision” belief, my view is that big clubs attack more and small clubs defend more desperately. But, crucially, marginal decisions have much more impact on struggling teams.
The fact that the club we all care about took a point despite three big calls going against them (and one, the colour of Holty’s card, going for them) showed we’re not Lil Ol Norwich. We are big enough and good enough to make and take our point.
See you at Wigan. OTBC
Danny Graham couldn’t have been offside for Bunn incident as it was a (attempted) backpass.
Mike C says
Interfering with play – surely that also includes the effect Fletcher had on Bassong’s behaviour. We had seen in an earlier incident Bassong leaving a ball that he feinted to play and let it pass harmlessly over the goal line. He would surely have done the same had Fletcher not been there? Turning though to the question of handball – as the Laws stand neither Bassong nor Bunn deliberately handled the ball – it’s only the guidance that tells us that they did – not the Laws, therefore two wrong decisions. Rose, according to the guidance, deliberately handled the ball and inside the area, therefore penalty and three wrong decisions. Seeing the Holt challenge later – should have been red – four and the penalty Sunderland should have had for the push on Fletcher in the second half – that’s five wrong decisions.
I wonder what marks the assessor gave the ref and his ‘assistants’
Ian P says
Mick your summary of the offside law is incomplete. Therefore your conclusion was incorrect. As has been pointed out here, we all regularly see linesmen flagging for offside *before* an offside attacker touches the ball.
The reason for this is explained in the current laws which may be found here:
The offside law is covered on page 35 and pages 104-112.
Regarding the offside call before the Bassong handball. When the ball was played forward, Fletcher was clearly the only Sunderland player who had an opportunity to play the ball. On page 107 of the laws it states: “A player in an offside position may be penalised before playing or touching the ball, if, in the opinion of the referee, no other team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.”
So the rules indicate that the linesman should have flagged for offside the moment he perceived the trajectory of the pass forward.
Also according to the laws of the game, an attacker, who was in an offside position, commits an offence if his movements “distract” a defender. The movement of Fletcher towards the ball was clearly occupying Bassong’s thoughts, to the point of motivating his actions, and was thus, at the very least, a distraction for him (as demonstrated by him mis-controlling the ball with his chest). So, even if the linesman incorrectly believed another Sunderland player had had the opportunity to play the ball, he should still have flagged for offside due to distraction.
So the linesman actually made *two* incorrect offside decisions, one after the other, before he made the subjective call about the intentionality of Bassong’s handball.
Mick Dennis says
Of course I summarised and omitted parts of the law. And so have you, Ian P. The illustration which goes with the part of page 107 you quote clearly shows it is an example of what I talk about above: a player running through clearly going to play the ball. That isn’t what happened at Sundrerland at all. The reference you quote about distraction is from the examples of interfering with an opponent and refers to making a gesture designed to distract an opponent. That didn’t happen at Sunderland either. And the basic definition of both interfering with play and interfering with an opponent remain. The rules (laws) most definitely do NOT imply or instruct an assistant to flag once he perceives the trajectory! I can assure you that is the opposite of what is said, meant and taught.
Matt H says
So are we saying that the illustrations in the FIFA laws of the game are more important than the words? Surely the illustration just represents the clearest example of the law whereas the wording can cover many more scenarios, such as the one we experienced at Sunderland.
If we’ve proved nothing else here we’ve shown how people interpret this particular law differently so really it’s no surprise at all “so many don’t know the Laws” & this really does need to be addressed by FIFA. How confident are we that the same interpretation is taught in every nation / confederation?
Mick Dennis says
No Matt. The illustration is just that, an illustration.
The law says a player has to be interfering with play, interfering with an opponent or have gained an advantage to be offside.
In the section of the laws booklet (same for all the world) giving “interpretation and guidance”, the definition of interfering with play is touching the ball. The definition of interfering with an opponent means stopping the opponent from being able to play the ball (I summarise). Gaining an advantage means receiving the ball from a rebound off the woodwork or a rebound from an opponent, having been in an offside position when the ball was played forward. It is all cut and dried. It has been like that since 2005, all over the planet (but not in Alan Hansen’s head).
There are a series of helpful illustrations. One shows a player running through, on his own, from an offside position and about to play the ball. The text with that illustration says that in those circumstances it is OK to flag before the offence (touching the ball) has been committed. But that is the only time an assistant should flag early.
There is no argument among referees or assistants (except those in Sunday football who haven’t bothered to keep up with the 2005 change). There’s only an argument on this thread!
But, all over the world, for eight years, interfering with play has meant touching the ball.
Matt H says
I’m still dubious on the basis that ultimately is there any difference between running through as shown in the illustration & running back towards the ball like Fletcher did. The intention in each scenario is to get the ball & the text mentions team-mate but not opponent, no team-mate was going to get there so should Bassong being there influence the decision.
Anyway, thats long gone & come July the rule will include “challenging an opponent for the ball” – I think he challenged Bassong but of course what constitutes challenging an opponent could be a debate for another day, hopefully to our advantage. Cheers Mick.
Mick Dennis says
If anyone is still reading these comments, there was an argument about the issue of interfering with play/opponent in the USA. The assistant ref flagged a player who had not touched the ball and the conclusion there has been that he was wrong so to do.