A game-changing moment?

2nd May

A few weeks ago there was an incident in a women's under-19 international which has the potential to change football forever.

In the dying minutes of a European Championship qualifier, the referee disallowed a successful England penalty kick because English players had encroached into the 18-yard box.

As a result, the referee awarded an indirect free-kick to the defending Norwegian team, who held out for the last few seconds to secure a 2-1 win.

However, England lodged an appeal. According to the laws of the game, the referee should have ordered the kick to be retaken. She should only have awarded Norway a free-kick had the penalty been missed.

UEFA upheld England's appeal and ordered that the penalty should be retaken and the last few minutes of the match replayed.

Fortunately the match was part of a mini-tournament being played in Ireland and both teams were still in the country.

So, five days later, the two teams lined up again to play out the final few seconds of the match. England duly netted the retaken penalty, which secured them the point they needed to qualify for the European Championship finals.

Now, doesn't this decision set an interesting precedent for the future of the game? UEFA or FIFA ordering matches to be replayed because of a refereeing error.

Think of how many matches from the past that would have been replayed had this precedent been set sooner.

The first match that sprung to mind personally was the Wales v Scotland World Cup qualifier back in 1977 when Joe Jordan handled the ball in the Welsh penalty area, but the referee inexplicably awarded Scotland a match-changing penalty.

TV replays and photographs show it was a blue long-sleeved Scottish arm that connected with the ball, rather than a red short-sleeved Welsh arm.

Mind you, I'm not sure how much success you'd get trying to convince Jordan to turn out at Anfield almost 40 years after the incident to play out the remainder of the game with Wales being awarded a free-kick in their own penalty area. 

And what if Wales, featuring the likes of Terry Yorath, John Toshack, Dai Davies and all, were to win against Dalglish, Masson, Gemmil and Co and qualified for the finals? Would FIFA have to replay the entire 1978 World Cup in Argentina?!

Perhaps a more realistic example, relevant to the modern day and today's match in particular, would be last season's Swans clash with Stoke here at the Liberty when Wayne Routledge was adjudged to have handled in the dying minutes.

Stoke were awarded a hugely debated penalty which gave them a 3-3 draw. The general consensus that day was that the referee got the decision wrong.

I suppose the difference between these two examples and the one from the ladies' game is that they were errors of judgement from the referees.

These were examples of a referee getting a decision wrong, rather than getting the laws of the game wrong, which is what the referee in the England v Norway match did.

Going back a couple of seasons, there was an example of the referee apparently getting the laws wrong when the Swans were denied a perfectly good goal against West Brom.

Roland Lamah's cross came back to him after being touched by two West Brom defenders, and he duly slotted the loose ball past Ben Foster.

But to the Belgian forward's disbelief, his effort was chalked off for offside.
Then Swans manager Michael Laudrup felt the officials had got the laws of the game wrong: "What makes me frustrated is when you see our disallowed goal. We are not talking about a decision, we are talking about the rules of football. 
"When the ball comes back not off one player, but two, it cannot be offside. It's like giving offside from a throw-in. It's frustrating." 
Even the West Brom manager Steve Clarke backed up the Swans boss' view: "I've got to agree with Michael Laudrup. If you look at it, it last came off Ben Foster, which means the fellow is not offside."

We will probably never know whether the officials on that day were just mistaken about what they saw, or whether they got the laws wrong. 

But it is an important distinction to make, especially if games are going to be replayed when an official gets a law wrong.

Personally I think it would be a shame if games are going to be replayed because of an honest mistake by the officials, whether it's a point of law they get wrong or an error of judgement.

Yes, it is massively frustrating when your team is on the wrong end of a particularly poor decision in a big game, especially like Wales' World Cup qualifier in 1977.

People say that decisions even themselves out over the course of a season, but it's difficult to even out an injustice like Jordan's handball. In fact that's just one of a number of decisions that have gone against Wales in big matches.

But even so, glaring mistakes by referees are part of the game, in the same way that dropped clangers by goalkeepers and missed sitters by centre forwards are part of the game.

The errors can be more glaring than refereeing mistakes and they can change matches in even more dramatic ways, but they don't lead to games being replayed.

When Shefqi Kuqi made that glaring open goal miss for the Swans against Barnsley in the championship a few years back, nobody suggested the game should be played again because he made a mistake.

We all want our referees to make the right decision every time. But they are human and they make mistakes. In exactly the same way players, coaches and even us fans are human and make mistakes.

How many times have you watched something live at a game and been convinced your opinion of it was correct, only to have your theory blown out of the water by Match of the Day replays?

If it's an honest mistake, even on a point of law, made without fear or favour, during the 90 minutes of a game, then that's where it should stay in my opinion.

That's why referees should be given all the help they can to make the right decision during the course of a game, even if it means the action being held up for a few seconds, or even minutes.

If someone had spotted the ref's mistake in disallowing the England goal in the Under-19 match - even the fourth official or the referee's assessor in the stands - why not let her know with a discreet word via her earpiece. Surely that's not beyond our current technology or common sense?

A short delay to ensure the correct decision has been made has got to be better than the song and dance of a replayed match. 

What if it had happened in last year's World Cup final, rather than a qualifying tournament? Would Germany have had to fly back to Brazil to play the last few minutes five days later? Would the trophy have been presented after the game if a protest had been lodged? 

No, in my opinion, if it's a genuinely honest mistake by the referee, then it should be classed alongside all the other miskicks, mistimed tackles, stray passes, dropped crosses and corner-flag bound shots which happen during the course of a game.

Mind you, I may have changed my opinion by the end of today's match if Stoke are awarded another controversial late penalty!

C'mon you Swans!