Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Law 12 and How to Misinterpret It

The redoubtable Alan Parry, who had the good fortune to be calling the engaging Manchester United v. Arsenal encounter on Sunday, expressed mild surprise at two decisions by referee Graham Poll (yes, our favourite man) early in the first half.

Australian fans will no doubt nod their heads sagely at this point. However, in the present instance, Poll got it right on both counts.

Parry’s comments showed how widespread is the misunderstanding of the sanctions due in the case of goalkeeping misdemeanours. The first incident involved Jens Lehmann handling foolishly outside the area as Wayne Rooney rushed towards him. Poll gave a direct free kick and a yellow card, and Parry remarked that “under the laws, he could have gone off”.

In fact, the notion that “a goalkeeper handling outside his area should get sent off” is mistaken. Outside the penalty box, the goalkeeper simply becomes like any other player, and the sanctions concerning handball apply to him as they would to anyone. The section of Law 12 dealing with direct free kicks makes this quite clear.

In other words, he should only get sent off if the handball (a) is deliberate, (b) denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity (see Law 12 again, “Sending-off offences”). (a) applied to Lehmann, but (b) clearly didn’t.

Perhaps the few famous instances of goalies being dismissed for handling outside their area, including the case of Gianluca Pagliuca in 1994 (which became well-known mainly because of its sequel, the extraordinary substitution of Roberto Baggio), have clouded some minds.

Then, at the other end, Tomasz Kuszczak fouled a somewhat theatrical Emmanuel Adebayor in the area. Kuszczak was clearly “the last defender”. Again, Parry instantly appeared to conclude that a red card was likely (in fairness, he didn’t explicitly say so, but the implication was there).

No law of the game is as commonly misrepresented as this one.

Let’s return to Law 12. A player is to be sent off if he:

…denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick…

Now, although I have a serious problem with the final four words of that law (a future blog piece on that some time), the basic principle is sound. And the words in bold are crucial, for good reason. In this case, Adebayor was actually moving away from goal, at the time when Kuszczak made his apparent contact.

No red card.

Since Mikey's playing rules' explainer (yes, I have just invented a word), what about the Giggs penalty in the Celtic match?
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