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‘If you’re honest, that wasn’t a penalty…’

1 month ago
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You know what I’m talking about.

The 70th minute of the game against Wolves on Friday night and Chris Wood is “fouled” by the goalkeeper.

The crowd screamed for a penalty and it was inevitably given. Has anyone had second thoughts after seeing the incident on TV?

Oh, you might say – but the referee gave it and it passed the VAR review and so it was a penalty. That’s good enough for me. Newcastle 1 Wolves 0, three points to us and onto the next game.

OK then, what I mean to say is, it shouldn’t be a penalty. Not in a sane world. Not in a world where honest skill and endeavour are rewarded justly.

Put aside your obvious relief at the fact that we scored and ultimately won and ask yourself whether you want to have a football world in which the ability of a striker to subtly make contact with the flailing limb of a goalkeeper or defender is regularly rewarded so handsomely.

Well, we already do, of course, but I would suggest that things don’t have to be this way.

What strikes me as ironic, is that most football fans will declare that they hate diving and that it is ruining the game, but will be surprisingly tolerant of this special sub-section of diving that has blossomed in recent years.

“The goalkeeper shouldn’t have put himself in that position” they will argue, as if failing to lock your back door actually justifies a burglary.

“There was contact so it’s a stonewall penalty” declare the pundits, if the incident is even adjudged to be controversial enough to take up air-time discussing it.

It’s as if we have come to accept that a punch in the face might actually be viewed as an attack by someone’s chin on a harmless fist.

What to do about it?

I have mixed feelings about VAR but it does give the opportunity to help eradicate this particular type of cheating from the game.

As you may be able to tell, I’ve a bit of a thing about this particular issue and am very likely to suspect a bit of play-acting when someone goes down in the box, but I was fooled by Chris Wood’s actions in real time and was baying for a penalty along with the rest of you. With VAR it was obvious that Wood saw his opportunity to win a penalty for his team and that he was the one that ensured contact with the goalkeeper, rather than the other way round.

We need the football authorities to instruct referees to ask themselves whether the forward has made a reasonable attempt to avoid contact with the opposing defender/goalkeeper. Put another way, has he behaved in the manner of someone who is interested in staying on his feet?

Of course, we will be able to argue until the cows come home about what is reasonable, but that is the task officials have when interpreting many laws of the game. Handball? Violent play? It’s very much in the eye of the beholder but we don’t give up on necessary rules just because they are difficult to apply. And a VAR review operating in the new environment I have proposed, would have overturned that penalty decision pretty quickly.

Reward a type of behaviour and you’ll get more of it. Take away the reward and I believe players will inevitably make greater efforts to stay on their feet, thereby improving the game as a spectacle for everyone.

So, on Friday maybe we would have had to settle for 0-0, rather than 1-0. Don’t worry – we’d still stay up and be grateful for the rule change next time some opposing forward is bearing down on Dubravka.

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