There was a moment of loud controversy during Aston Villa’s win over Leicester City at Villa Park on Sunday. Shortly before half-time, with the scores locked at one apiece, there was a goalmouth scramble in the Leicester penalty area. Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal got a hand onto the top of the ball while on the ground. While Schmeichel was pinning the ball in position, Jacob Ramsey swung a boot at it, dislodged it from the keeper’s grasp, and forced it into the net.
Referee Michael Oliver initially awarded a goal. But after a check with VAR, he reversed the decision and gave a free kick to Leicester. This triggered a loud chorus of boos from the Villa Park faithful, and even Clinton Morrison, an ex-player commentating for BBC Radio, was convinced Oliver had made a mistake.
Our instinct as fans is to roll our eyes and complain about referees protecting goalkeepers too much. There is an echo of truth in that. We are also taught in PE lessons in school that the goalkeeper may not be challenged only, “When he has two hands on the ball.”
However, it is surprising in this country how we learn to play sports as kids without ever getting to read the rules. The “two-hands-on-it-is-keeper’s-ball” ‘rule’ is one we all get wrong, because the laws of the game do not in fact say that.
The truth is that Oliver’s decision was correct. What Law 12 actually states is that the goalkeeper is deemed to have possession if the ball is in contact with at least one of his hands and any other surface. Usually that other surface is his other hand, but it can be a goalpost, the crossbar, the pitch, or even another player. It even goes as far as to say that the keeper has possession, “by touching it with any part of the hands or arms, except when the ball is rebounding off the goalkeeper.” In effect, the keeper really just needs to have a hand maintaining contact with the ball. As long as that condition holds true, the keeper must not be challenged by an opponent.
On Sunday, as Schmeichel’s hand was pinning the ball to the ground, Ramsey did not have the right to challenge for it. Therefore it was correct that the goal was disallowed.
Fans going mad at referees for mistakes is a constant feature of football. A fair amount of the time, they are right to. But I would ask a lot of football fans to pause and consider, “Have you ever actually read the rules? Do you know for sure what they really say?” Because in some cases, like yesterday, the outrage of the Villa fans – an even an ex-player – was over a rule they did not appear to understand. It is worthwhile for any football fan to pause and ask themselves if and when they have studied the rules.
As an example of what might catch you out, I have a little “You are the ref…” puzzle for you; –
A team deep in their own half of the field is awarded a throw-in. They decide to throw it back to their goalkeeper so he can clear the ball, but as he goes to gather it, the keeper slips over. The ball trundles past him untouched by any player since the throw-in, and rolls into the goal. What do you award?
Please offer your answer in the comments.
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