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The Penalty of Modern Times

By Kevin Hudson :  31/08/2009 :  Comments (19) :
Two Blues penalties in two weeks have re-opened a nagging, never-quite-dormant gripe I have with the modern game. It is the frequency of which penalties are awarded, and the ostensible ease at which they are earned. Even though I thought he was looking for it, no question that yesterday's procured spot-kick was a plausible one for us. In a wider context however, I wanted to gauge Evertonian reaction to what constitutes a contemporary spot-kick.

On Saturday I saw two near-identical penalty claims awarded in both Manchester & Madrid. Jaundiced, I watched as first Rooney then Raul ran toward the penalty area, and deliberately TIMED their FALL at the point when they were about to reach the outstretched gloves of their respective opposition keeper. Penalty! Yet they were not tripped... They could easily have remained on their feet. Hey, walking or indeed running down the street my own sleuth-like instincts can almost always prevent me from tripping over some obstacle. That's why we have reflexes!

No, they wanted to fall, and exhort the ref thereafter; they got what they wanted, and I despise the modern game for this. I'm also looking not-too-fondly at Gerrard purposely entangling his right leg with Hibbert's left a couple of year's back, as another example too. In the interests of balance, Hibbo's Burnley belly-flop also springs to mind. This climate of deceit, pullulated by the media, and histrionic support, pains me. And yes — Eduardo, I'm looking at you too...

At the very real risk of sounding like an old fart (I'm only 32), I want penalties to be genuinely earned. What constitutes a penalty ought to remain true to the original laws governing the beautiful game, not the sensationalistic "modern definition", which I believe to be nothing more than a deliberate marketing ploy: make the game more dramatic — more folks will watch... and pay. Controversy sells: lots of Americans cannot stomach football, as they can't get their heads around a nil-nil draw (sorry, "tie"). So there has to be drama, debate, recrimination... You get the idea.

Of course I'm not advocating a return to the violent days of Goikoetxea, Chopper Harris, Brian Marwood, Peter Reid and Graeme Souness, the latter of whom would have been (in his time) apoplectic at the comparitively soft nature of current penalty definitions. Yet there he is on television giving his acquiescence to the most flimsiest of granted spot kicks, conveniently forgetting that he played in the 80s (when men were "men", kids...) and was one of the most brutal bastards ever to have (dis)graced the game!! Albeit it a very good player, admittedly...

Alas, he is just one of a number of ex-pro's whose tacit complicity is helping to serve up a game that is high on melodrama, and low on honesty. These same ex-pro's — defenders Hansen & Lawrenson, two more examples — are liars! They too are part of the media-driven conspiracy to reinvent the laws and standards of the game! We're not inculpable either... Yet I just feel hollow when the slightest nudge provokes the most hysterical reaction, from myself included, to favourably influence "the referee"...

Where does it end? Non-contact sport? Do away with goalkeepers altogether? Is good honest-to-God defending not sexy enough? Why not award penalties based on the merit of someone's dive? What's that? We already do? Sigh...

I guess it's modern society's fault, and we're all liable. We've been conditioned to tolerate,and indeed crave exaggerated action. Even the news sounds more and more apocalyptic these days. Penalties piss me off! Growing up, I would have laughed at the ones I see given. Today though, it's not funny. Machiavellianism it may be, but the dark arts of football lamentably turn me into my dad: "Some things were better in my day..."

Now, where did I leave my pipe and slippers...??

Reader Comments

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Julian Wait
1   Posted 31/08/2009 at 16:42:20

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Someone somewhere (F365?) suggested asking the offended party if it is a penalty. That might solve some issues and give a "diver" (or just someone avoiding an injury) an opportunity to do the right thing and say whether there was contact or not. Even if there is no contact, the referee can still give the award anyway if he deems that the attacker was impeded and had good intent.

I would go further and say that even if a player doesn’t "dive", but it is clear that the primary goal of an attacking play is to deliberately draw a foul from a defender, for example by running on a certain line, slowing down, or even stopping, then the foul goes the other way.

The other rule somewhat related to this is the shielding rule where players shield the ball out. I hate that. If you have no possession of the ball -i.e. you have not touched it - and you are solely trying to prevent the other player getting to the ball so it goes for your throw, corner, goal-kick, then it should be obstruction pure and simple. This would keep the ball live more as well.
Mike Allison
2   Posted 31/08/2009 at 16:35:39

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I think the biggest problem is the grey area when a forward anticipates a foul. In this situation he has two options; one is that he avoids the contact and stays on his feet, this will almost certainly result in him breaking stride, therefore losing momentum and his good position. In this case the defender benefits from the fact that he would have/ has committed a foul. This cannot be right.

The other is what tends to happen, which is that the forward controls his own fall at the point at which the defender/goalkeeper would have fouled him, this means that impact is softened, meaning less pain or fewer injuries, the defender’s clumsiness or dirtiness is punished and generally it seems fairer to me. Often you see a player make a point of trying to keep going when fouled and the ref uses it as an excuse to bottle out of giving a free kick or penalty (bizarrely, given his reputation, this happened to Drogba against Burnley).

The current situation has a number of problems, again due to the ’grey areas’ created. Eduardo, anticipating a foul from the goalkeeper, chose to go down ’on his own terms’ in order to avoid heavy contact, in the event, Boruc was clever enough to keep his hands out of the way, and so Eduardo ends up going down under no contact — it looks like a dive, but is no different to Rooney’s from the forward’s point of view, the difference is that Almunia didn’t manage to stay out of Rooney’s path.

I think another important point with Rooney’s was that Shrek himself didn’t actually have control of the ball. He got there first but just whacked it off for a goal kick, making Almunia’s contact incidental. Personally, in that situation I would like to see a goal kick awarded for that reason, it seems the fairest interpretation to me.

There was a high profile incident of this type a few years ago when Robbie Fowler ’dived’ over Seaman anticipating a foul, Fowler realised the foul hadn’t actually materialised and so got up waving his hands to say ’no penalty’.

Now coming to the three incidents involving Everton. Gerrard’s was very clever, and I actually don’t blame Clattenburg for getting that particular decision wrong, because in real time it didn’t look anything other than a foul. In retrospect, with the replay, its clear that Gerrard ’initiated the contact’ by putting his left leg across Hibbert’s path. I think ’initiated the contact’ is a key phrase (remember Pires against Portsmouth a few years ago?) and is effectively a more sophisticated form of diving. I believe Gerrard should have been retrospectively punished for this, but the ’experts’ on TV, many of whom have Liverpool connections, chose not to emphasise this.

Hibbert’s against Burnley was embarrassing and I hope we’re all ashamed of it. He may have expected a foul but he basically saw that he was going nowhere so went down, I would accept a retrospective punishment for that as well. The fact that we missed the penalty and the game was lower profile (than Celtic vs Arsenal) has led to different treatment.

Another example is the penalty Jo won yesterday, which Martinez described as ’soft’. It has some similarities to the Gerrard/Hibbert incident in that Jo clearly moves across the defender; however, there is a crucial difference here which was that Jo can legitimately be said to have been protecting the ball from a player who was behind him, and had every right to move into that space, whereas Gerrard and Hibbert were basically side by side chasing a ball which neither had under control when contact was made.

So, Kevin, I think blaming modern society and hankering after the days of Souness is probably going a bit far! I understand where you’re coming from but I think even within the game there is a failure to understand some of the complexities of these ’grey area’ challenges, where often both a foul and a ’dive’ occur at the same time.

I think those football men with the brain to recognise these subtleties tend to be biased in any given situation towards their team and so I’m yet to hear anyone make these distinctions in the public domain, and the majority of football fans still seem to believe it's either a foul or he should be booked for diving.

ps: Although it was quite funny, I think Zat Knight took it a step too far against Liverpool when having tackled Torres he got up and shouted at Torres for daring to fall over under a tackle. It seems some defenders think forwards should stay on their feet at all times no matter what happens.

Dan Brierley
3   Posted 31/08/2009 at 17:10:54

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I do agree that some of the decisions in the modern game are outrageous to say the least. Teams have lost cups, relegation etc. based on incorrect decisions. The problem is much wider than penalties though. Any incorrect decision, even for a throw in changes the game completely to what it would have been.

The only answer is video replay’s, which has been discussed over and over. I am in favour of video decisions, as some of the diving has become almost undetectable at the speed in which it happens.

The obstruction point is a tough one. It is of course legal to shield the ball from an opposing player by using your body, provided you are considered to be in possession. But in this case, they do not touch the ball so technically cannot be in possession. At the same time though, could you give a free kick or even a penalty when the defender feints to kick, and then steps over the ball to let it run out of play? Its the same on corners, when you see defenders clearly just trying to stop the attackers run into the box, and not even looking at the flight of the ball. All annoying things indeed, but also very hard to define when it is an infringement, and when it is not.

The game has been sanitised for the safety of the players, but sportsmanship has also been lost in doing so. The only solution is to change the way it is officiated by introducing more referee’s (two ’linesman’ on either by-line for example), or video technology. Either way, you are changing the fundamental laws that have existed successfully for so long. It would take massive complaints in order to bring in this kind of change. However, I am suprised that there has been no libel cases against the FA for lost earnings when a relegation or cup loss can be attributed to poor officiating.
Colin Potter
4   Posted 31/08/2009 at 17:51:20

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I must agree with you over Rooneys pen. He saw Almunia going down and timed his dive perfectly, also I agree with you over Hibberts belly flop, I thought it quite comical.
Julian thats a good idea with getting in the way of a ball going out for a goal kick
Dan I think if you are close enough to the ball and make an attempt to kick it, I think that should constitute you having the ball under control, but if you just get in the way of your opponent, surely that is obstruction, and should be an indirect foul. I hope you can understand that, I’m not too good at explaining things.
Rob Heib
5   Posted 31/08/2009 at 18:18:15

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[[ not the sensationalistic "modern definition", which I believe to be nothing more than a deliberate marketing ploy: make the game more dramatic — more folks will watch... and pay. Controversy sells: lots of Americans cannot stomach football, as they can’t get their heads around a nil-nil draw (sorry, "tie"). So there has to be drama, debate, recrimination... You get the idea. ]]

Unfortunately for the conspiracy theory-minded there are two inherent flaws with this idea:

1) One of the things Americans detest most about "soccer" is the diving.

2) American sports referees are held to such a higher standard than football refs you would likely be astonished. The amount of time, effort and money which goes into officiating the NFL is staggering. They constantly revise the rules every year to make the game fairer (and more enjoyable to watch), they have a very open review system (the head of officiating appears on TV every single week to go over controversial calls and, when needed, admit mistakes and make rule changes to adapt to those mistakes) and of course video replay is used to make sure they got the call correct. Granted a few mistakes still happen here and there but the NFL is by and large vastly superior to euro football in terms of refereeing.

So a fake dive followed by a bad refereeing decision does not make it more exciting for Americans -- it is the direct opposite of what they are used to in sports. They would likely laugh hysterically at the idea of no video replay and then go watch cars driving in a circle instead.
Gerry Quinn
6   Posted 31/08/2009 at 17:32:54

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Kevin, as always, a good article from you with potential for a good moan — sorry, I meant discussion!!! It often makes me wonder what the hell went wrong with the game we grew up loving.

I personally believe that the causes of all today's problems lie in the fact that the ruling bodies of the game have neither acted swiftly nor decisively to stamp them out and are so boringly self-inflated with their potential power. Stealing yards for a throw-in, taking free kicks from nowhere near the offence, and then having to contend with players and fans whingeing about "referees being petty".

Oh for the days of shoulder-charging the goalkeeper and tackling from behind - something our "white Pele" perfected without any thought in his head other than getting the ball... today, over-paid, over-hyped, bad-tempered pooftas diving and committing all other kinds of sneaky attempts to gain an advantage!! Arrrgh, after you with the slippers and pipe...!

Dave Wilson
7   Posted 31/08/2009 at 18:23:20

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Sorry Kevin, this is not as you seem to believe something that has crept into the game in recent years, it was always there; Franny Lee, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, even the greatest of them all — the Belfast boy — thought "inviting the challenge" was a legitimate part of the game, it was part of their armoury, a defence mechanism against the hatchet men.

I cringe when I hear people claim this behaviour came with the foreigners. We invented it and the only thing that’s changed in the time I’ve been watching is the number of cameras around to show us how clever/devious/underhanded these guys are.

You’re right of course, it's sickening, but if Saha can get a penalty against the shite through simulation with a couple of seconds to go, I want him to do it

Hypocritical? undoubtedly, but if you’re not prepared to win at all cost, your opponent will be!
Ken Buckley
8   Posted 31/08/2009 at 19:50:48

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In my experience the ball is in the box, a tackle is made, the ref makes a descision and every man and his dog argues later and not a damn thing changes. Great game this footy.
Peter Fearon
9   Posted 31/08/2009 at 21:19:59

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Rooney’s penalty against Arsenal and Glenn Johnson’s penalty against Spurs were similar. They both pushed the ball away from the keeper in order to create minimal contact and thereby, manufacture the penalty. It makes no sense to regularly give those kind of penalties when all the pushing, pulling, shirt-tugging and shoulder climbing at every single corner and free kick are ignored as being "part of the game." With the exception of handball, penalties should only be given if a clear goal-scoring opportunity has been impeded. The plain fact is that it is usually easy to tell the righteous penalties from the phonies. Except for the referees.
Nick Entwistle
10   Posted 31/08/2009 at 21:19:36

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A penalty should be awarded when the actions of the defending player are in themselves the reason for the player going to ground. A player deciding they should go to ground or reacting to a nudge and going to ground is not a penalty. The player should not at the same time wait to be hit from an on coming goalkeeper when they are able to jump over the goalie.

However, as Gordon Strachan said on MotD2 that Jo placed himself in front of the ball knowing the player will make a challenge at that point, then it gets tricky. And as much as I detest diving, I’d still go with my first point.

Rooney dives and cheats, same with Eduardo... and a shit load of other players. It's not so much the diving, it's more those in charge blitherly accepting it all. But then it's the top four who do it in the majority.

Mike Allison
11   Posted 31/08/2009 at 22:53:48

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"A penalty should be awarded when the actions of the defending player are in themselves the reason for the player going to ground"

But Nick this ignores so many subtleties of fouling. There are many ways for a defender to foul somebody WITHOUT causing them to go to ground. Because a forward is still on his feet doesn’t mean he hasn’t been fouled. The player who jumps over the goalie has been illegitimately impeded by the goalie and deserves a penalty as much as the guy who doesn’t jump over him and gets taken down.

Your interpretation makes it okay for defenders and goalies to make outrageous, dangerous tackles as long as they’re so obvious the forward can get out of the way, otherwise the forward has to choose to take the contact from the outrageous, dangerous tackle in order to win his penalty.
Peter Hall
12   Posted 31/08/2009 at 23:54:04

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For me the Rooney penalty was routine, I can’t see what there is to argue with. OK Rooney had no chance to score (hence yellow not red) - but so what? He tripped him in the penalty area. Obvious foul, penalty. As for what was in Rooney’s mind - no idea - don’t care.

Reminded me of Ossie’s g oal from Pienaar’s ball in pre-season (was it?) - but a bit quicker, to be fair. And the keeper didn’t trip Ossie

I didn’t see the Johnson penalty. Can’t watch them.
Peter Hall
13   Posted 01/09/2009 at 00:07:08

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But Kevin — thanks for ’pullulated’ — a first for ToffeeWeb — and no apparent crticism.

Well done mate!
David Ellis
14   Posted 01/09/2009 at 06:58:32

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I think it would be useful to remind us (and the lazy TV commentators) on what the rules actually are

"A penalty kick is awarded against a team that commits one of the ten offences
for which a direct free kick is awarded, inside its own penalty area and while
the ball is in play."

So what are the 10 offences?

Here goes
"A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any
of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be
careless, reckless or using excessive force:
• kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
• trips or attempts to trip an opponent
• jumps at an opponent
• charges an opponent
• strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
• pushes an opponent
• tackles an opponent
A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any
of the following three offences:
• holds an opponent
• spits at an opponent
• handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own
penalty area)"

So all this discussion about "going to ground", "no malicious intent" is entirely irrelevant to whether there should be a penalty in the box or an indirect free kick outside the box.

The key point is if the offending player is acting in a way that is "careless, reckless or using excessive force". Would n’t it be better if TV pundit analysed the incidents in accordance with the actual written laws of the game as opposed to their gut feelings as to what might be a fair approach.

What is interesting is that the last 3 items (handling, holding an opponent and spitting at an oppontent) do not need to be careless, reckless or using excessive force. So that means that all this holding on at corner kicks is properly punishable by a penalty - but only if the ball is in play - it is not possible to commit an offence if the ball is not in play - see further discussion below..

Also even a "fair tackle" can result in a penalty if excessive force is used.

Helpfully FIFA rules also define these terms. Reckless offences earn a yellow card. Excessive force a straight red. Careless offences are not bookable
"“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or
consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.
• No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the
danger to, or consequences for, his opponent
• A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned.
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary
use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.
• A player who uses excessive force must be sent off."

There is also detailed guidance on "holding offences"


"Holding an opponent includes the act of preventing him from moving past or
around using the hands, the arms or the body.
Referees are reminded to make an early intervention and to deal fi rmly with
holding offences especially inside the penalty area at corner kicks and free
To deal with these situations:
• the referee must warn any player holding an opponent before the ball is in
• caution the player if the holding continues before the ball is in play
• award a direct free kick or penalty kick and caution the player if it happens
once the ball is in play"

Most of the tugging and holding one sees at corners happens before the ball is in play - so this is not punishable by a penalty - but players can still get booked for it.

Sorry this is so long but I do think that all worthwhile debate needs to be well informed - and TV journos not actually knowing the rules is one of my bug bears (but then I am a lawyer!).
Ray Roche
15   Posted 01/09/2009 at 07:37:03

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David Ellis
I brought the point up about holding at corners the other day. Just watch MOTD again and see how much goes on AFTER a corner/free kick has been taken. If referees used the letter of the law we would see three or four penalties every game. And Rooney dived. He leaves his left leg stretched out behind him before Almunia touches him.
David Ellis
16   Posted 01/09/2009 at 09:32:48

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Ray Roche
If the ball is in play then its a penalty. And if penalties were given for this activity then it would soon stop. It think it is ridiculous how it is tolerated — and is it me but I think our attackers get more manhandled than opposing attackers playing against us — in particular Fellaini and Cahill?

I could go on. I think swearing at the referee should also not be tolerated — it is not in other sports.

Can’t really comment on the Sky Four match-ups — generally I avoid watching the Sky 4 unless they are playing us. I prefer to pretend they and the Champions League don’t exist and we are the Champions —which in a way we are.
Dave Richman
17   Posted 01/09/2009 at 11:22:06

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David Ellis, thanks for that... It’s one of my major gripes that the ’pundits’ spout a whole load of shite without actually knowing the laws of the game... and I doubt they’ve ever read them.

The best one in my opinion is the age-old "... he was going for the ball" chestnut. The only time the ball is mentioned in the relevant law is the one covering deliberate handball.

I have no doubt at all that Fletcher was indeed "going for the ball" when he dived in two-footed on Arshavin on Saturday...
Mike Allison
18   Posted 01/09/2009 at 12:46:16

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David, I think it's important for you to have put the exact wording into the thread, but I’m afraid the laws of the game are known inside-out by the referees, the referees’ associations and the governing bodies (if not by the fans and pundits) and they still feel the need to apply interpretations in order to achieve the fairest result. They have meetings and review borderline incidents, and then try to agree on an interpretation that is fair and can be consistently applied.

This happens in all sports, and indeed, unless I’m mistaken, the law. Simply having a set of words written down is never, ever going to be enough, it is only the starting point, not the end point (otherwise, why would we need judges?). There will always be different, evolving interpretations as new situations arise, and attempts to achieve consistency based on precedent.

Handball is a good example of this, as the current interpretation that referees are trying to apply is not that which the law of the game would demand if taken word for word; it's better, fairer and more sensible.

David Ellis
19   Posted 01/09/2009 at 16:44:23

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You are of course 100% correct. The words written down are not sufficient and referees (and judges have to (1) apply the laws to the incidents in front of them and also (2) establish the facts. Sometimes refs get the facts wrong (was their contact or not?).

For example it is quite OK to debate whether a handball was deliberate or not. If ref thinks it was deliberate it is a penalty, if not then it isn’t. There are also guidelines in the rules as to what factors a ref should take into account, including hand postion, distance from ball, time to react etc.

I think we agree that what is not OK is a debate based on the wrong principle. Take Dave Richman’s great example of "he’s going for the ball". You, me, my Mum, Andy Gray, Alan Handson (sic) and the ref may all agree that the defender was going for the ball - but its completely irrelevant to the issue of whether it should be a penalty or not. The debate should be about whether the defender was careless.We can then form a view if we think the ref interpreted it correctly by considering whether or not the defender was careless, reckless or used excessive force in chopping Jo to the ground. We may differ over the facts (was he careless or not), but there is no debate about what the rule is. And the defenders intentions are not relevant to the issue of whether it was a penalty or not (but are relevant to whether or not he gets booked).

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