Monday, 19 February 2018

A 'soft' foul in the penalty area is still a penalty kick

Game 36, 2017-18

"And don't talk back to the referee!" I hear the home trainer instructing his U17 side just as I open the door to my changing room to step out and start the match. Sound advice.

And they don't, at least not to start with. This is the same club I reffed at on Valentine's Day, and clearly one with a generally healthy sporting culture. The first half passes without any major incident - no goals, no bookings, in a game of few chances contested by two well-matched teams. There's not a single sigh of dissent at any of the multiple free-kicks I blow for. If this keeps up, I'm going to start seriously enjoying my part-time job.

Careful with those arms
in the penalty area... (pic: N Lotze).
The second half would have passed just as quietly, had it not been for the two penalties. Both are conceded by the home team, and can only be described as 'soft', but they are clear fouls, committed right in front of me. Both times, a defender throws an opponent to the ground - not violently, just lazily. The first as the ball's flying overhead from a cross, the second as two players tussle for the ball after a corner kick. 

I've written before about players protesting penalty calls on soft fouls. "How can you give a penalty for that?" And I've written before that I have a certain sympathy - the weak foul didn't earn the harsh punishment of a spot-kick. But even a stupid and unnecessary foul is a foul, and if it's in the penalty area, it's a penalty kick. Go sing your laments on a hill-side in Z├╝rich, but short of abolishing the penalty kick, Fifa's not changing the law on this any time soon.

So, I tell them all to shut up and back off. Both penalties are converted. The home team never really
looks like getting one back.

Go on, make the old ref
happy - shake his hand.
At the final whistle, the home team's coach comes towards me with a laconic smile (might have been less of a smile if this hadn't been a friendly), and his arms spread out in a questioning gesture. I know what he's going to say because I already heard his complaints on the touchline. So before he even speaks, I say, "Both uncalled for fouls right in front of my nose. You should make your defenders understand why it's a bad idea to do that in the penalty area."

He laughs and we shake hands. Only one player - the captain of the away team - does likewise. I don't expect it, but coaches should also teach their players to thank the referee. I do it with my boys' U15 team - on Saturday every single one of them shook the young ref's hand, even though we'd lost 5-3. That was just as important to me as the fact they'd played well and never stopped trying.

Final score: 0-2 (2 x yellow)

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