Scunthorpe United v Milton Keynes, 15-10-16
On a short enforced break from refereeing, I ended up at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe, to watch the current leaders of the English third division take on Milton Keynes, the much vilified entity that stole Wimbledon FC’s identity at the start of this century. It wasn’t a great game – too many long balls, from Scunthorpe in particular, for my taste – but as a neutral it was fascinating to watch the reaction of the crowd to the referees.
In the eleventh minute, Scunthorpe striker Tom Hopper followed one of those long balls over the top of the MK defence. Just inside the penalty area, he beat the keeper to the ball, heading it to his left, then collided with the keeper, who by this time had stopped and was holding his arms in the air, realising he wasn’t going to beat Hopper to the ball. Two defenders were in close attention, and one of these picked up the loose ball (which they likely would have done even if Hopper hadn’t gone to ground) and cleared.
The crowd screamed for a penalty, but none was given. The fans around me moaned about it for 20 minutes. The linesman directly in front of me received abuse for the rest of the first half. The Scunthorpe bench harangued the fourth official (like it was his fault). All three officials were booed off the pitch at half-time.
After the game, United manager Graham Alexander told the Scunthorpe Telegraph, “The penalty decision was ridiculous. It is two yards inside the box and he [MK goalkeeper David Martin] cleans Hops out so how it is not given is beyond me.” MK manager Karl Robinson also admitted it should have been a penalty, according to the same paper (though he also moaned about the seven yellow cards his team received – but they were a physical side, and that’s clearly how they are coached).
I read numerous other match reports covering the incident. They all said it was a penalty, and the Milton Keynes paper even suggested that Martin should have been red carded. Yet my own instinctive reaction was: the referee got it right. It was not 100% a penalty. After reading all the above, though, I began to doubt my own eyes. So I watched it on YouTube. After looking at the incident twice more in real time, I’m even more certain that the referee, Mark Haywood, made the correct call.
At worst, it was a collision. As I mentioned above, I do not think that Hopper would have got to his own header before the defender, and probably did nothing to avoid colliding with Martin, hoping for the whistle. So the referee, his well-placed linesman, and a neutral (admittedly very amateur) ref in the crowd with a very clear view of the incident all agreed. We were not one hundred per cent sure it was a foul. (Though I'm willing to entertain other points of view from non-Scunthorpe fans.)
That’s not to say Haywood had a great game. He correctly turned down all penalty appeals from both teams, and I wouldn’t disagree with any of his many yellow cards. But the amount of holding and pushing that went unpunished beggared belief. Is that an accepted part of the professional game in England nowadays? Even when an MK defender had his arms wrapped around a Scunthorpe attacker directly in front of us, no one around me moaned at the referee or yelled out for a whistle.
One thing was clear. It may be an unscientific survey, but out of the two dozen or so very expressive Scunthorpe fans sitting around me on Saturday, not one had a clue about the Laws of the Game.
Final score: Scunthorpe United 2 Milton Keynes 1