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I actually found it rather shocking and amazing that one incident from this past weekend's Premier League action got the kind of reaction that it did. I'm talking about Eden Hazard's goal for Chelsea after Samuel Eto'o knocked the ball away from Cardiff's David Marshall.
After the event, on Match of the Day and other outlets, people reacted to what Eto'o had done and accepted that it shouldn't have stood. But that wasn't universally the case the whole time.
I had a rare Saturday afternoon in, sitting in front of my computer and skimming through Twitter while Soccer Saturday rolled in the background. It soon became apparent what had happened at Stamford Bridge, and when I heard the description, I waited for the outcry. I waited a while.
Jeff Stelling, who has an eye on all the games, essentially said that Marshall made a mistake. Correspondents nodded along as everyone seemed to agree that by the sounds of it, the Cardiff goalkeeper had made a terrible error. To me, it sounded like a clear foul. I read on...
Twitter didn't seem to be talking about it. The few people I saw mention it simply said it was a goal, or praised Eto'o's quick thinking. I was agog, but maybe I'd heard the description of the event wrong. Perhaps the keeper really had dropped it.
And then I saw it. And it is completely, utterly, entirely, indisputably a foul. It isn't a 'grey area' as I read in one report. It isn't 'audacious' on the part of Eto'o, either. It's a transgression of the rules, and in fact I would have cautioned the player for unsporting behaviour.
If you're still not convinced, let's have a look at the Laws. "A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball," they state, at the following times:
- while the ball is between his hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body)
- while holding the ball in his outstretched open hand
- while in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it into the air
I think that last one is pretty conclusive. There is no ambiguity about this. It is not something 'in the opinion of the referee' that can change its interpretation depending on the official. It's a foul, and it's one that Anthony Taylor and his assistants failed to spot.
Replays seemed to indicate that Mr Taylor turned away at the time the incident happened. That's pretty poor on his part, but forgivable. It's happened to all of us at times. The linesman, though, was looking straight at the incident, and if he can't tell the difference between a goalkeeper dropping a ball and bouncing a ball then I fear for his job. A top flight assistant referee needs to be able to see what is happening forty yards from him, and he didn't. Or, and I find this rather unlikely, he couldn't remember what the rule was either.
If that's the case, then he wasn't alone. Malky Mackay, (400 games or so as a player) speaking after the event, said that he went into the referee's room afterwards to ask for clarification on the law. He was told that if happened while the ball was being bounced, then it was a mistake. After hearing this from Malky, MOTD cut back to the studio to find Gary Lineker (well over 500 games) saying "I think Malky's right, isn't he? About the Law?"
All this brings me back to a consistent gripe of mine throughout the years, and that is the amount of people that are involved with football on any level - players, managers, coaches, pundits, journalists, fans - that are ignorant of the Laws of the Game. They don't know, they are guessing, and yet consider it acceptable to throw around criticism, particularly about referees.
When I first learned to be referee, I did so not necessarily because I wanted to be a ref, but because at the time I was playing and coaching, as well as viewing as a fan and occasionally reporting. I did the refereeing course as a form of education. How could I expect to teach my lads about the game when I didn't have a full enough grip on it? How could I play it not knowing whether certain things are allowed? I did the course to learn.
Now I'm not saying that every player, manager, fan has to do a refereeing course, but I do think that it is worth your while to download a copy of the latest Laws of the Game from FIFA's website and read it from time to time. It is the most important tome in our game, and yet people's unfamiliarity with it is astounding.
Malky Mackay should know the laws. Gary Lineker should know the laws. As should Jeff Stelling and Samuel Eto'o and every single person that has anything to do with football. I was extremely disappointed with the (immediate) reaction to the incident, which displayed a great deal of ignorance.
Ignorance is not a defence in the laws of the land. I don't consider it one when dealing with the best game in the world, either.
Rob McNichol - follow him on Twitter