I tread lightly as I am intending to bring up one of everyone's favourite subjects, namely diving, referees and what we do about it.
I only saw the replays of David Ngog's acrobatics against Liverpool and he has been roundly criticised for his disgraceful and theatrical dive that earned the Scousers an ill-deserved point. At least that is what the papers said this morning. By the afternoon, some of the papers' internet sites are carrying articles asking why video technology still hasn't been brought into play. Apparently a video replay will clarify all incidents and the referee will never make a mistake again - see this in the Telegraph.
As usual, I am not so sure its all that simple. So lets start from the top and see where we get.
1. A penalty is given for a foul in the box. So thats pretty easy so far.
2. A player will sometimes commit a foul that does not actually make contact with the opposition player. For example, the use of dangerous play such as a high foot in the tackle, is a foul even if no contact is made. However, its rarely the case that defenders get punished if the incident happens inside the box.
3. Many fouls do involve contact with the opposition player, but are not enough to bring the player down. What is unclear in the majority of those incidents is whether the foul actually affects the player with the ball. For instance, there is an unwritten rule that so long as the striker gets his shot away, then the subsequent leg-breaker from John Terry is not a foul. The same is not true outside the box - it would be a free kick awarded and a card for Terry.
4. Strikers get pissed off that constant fouling from defenders goes unpunished. The unwritten rule is that so long as the defender makes contact with the striker, then the striker is allowed to throw themselves to the ground, turn forlornly to the ref and say "I had no choice, he touched me softly just behind the ear, its a penalty"
5. Outside the box, players regularly and routinely anticipate bad tackles, hurdle the challenge, collapse in a heap and get a free kick from the ref. There are two unwritten rules for this situation. The first one is that if David Beckham can do it, then so can I. The second unwritten rule, is that if a player expects to be fouled, then why wait for contact which might cause injury, when he can miss all contact altogether and still get a free kick?
6. Inside the box, as David Ngog shows, the hurdle and collapse routine is disgraceful cheating. Unless Steven Gerrard does it.
7. Occassionally, depending on the moods of the season, other factors have to be taken into account, such as whether the player was heading towards goal or away from it, whether a goal scoring opportunity had been lost, whether the player had lost control of the ball or not. This unwritten rule is all about not giving a penalty when you don't think the striker deserved one.
Ok, so everyone still with me? There is so much subjectivity in the subtleties of the rules of fouling that its basically impossible for a ref to get in right. Trying to remember that a collapse outside the box is a free kick to the striker, whereas a collapse inside the box is a free kick to the defender is never going to lead to consistent decisions.
You can also show video replays to me and 1979 all day. Although we are both Arsenal fans, I would bet we disagree on most decisions on whether a foul should be given, let alone whether it deserves a penalty. We're as bad as Rednapp and Souness on Sky:
Jamie Rednapp:- "Definite penalty. Stonewall decision for me. Thats a quality ball from Lampard, pure quality. Gallas just touches Drogba with his finger-tips, just there, you can see it on the replay, and the big man goes down and starts twitching like he is a decapitated chicken."
Graeme Sounness:- "Fucking shut it Rednapp, you lame arsed cunt. Drogba should be sent off for being a ponce. Have that it your face pretty boy. And that..."
Apart from calling 1979 a pretty boy, thats pretty much how it is. And given that we are footballing experts that this world has rarely seen the likes of, then what chance has a video ref got? Thats right. None at all.
Maybe we could have Souness and Rednapp miked up and watching a live screen for every game of football in the world at all times - every ref in the country can then press the panic button and it goes through on a random selector either to Graeme "Fuck me in the arse if thats a pen" Souness, or otherwise the striker goes wild as soon as Jamie "Stonewall quality gay penalty" Rednapp points to the spot. It would be at least as effective, and probably more entertaining, than the current lottery.