Dubious goals panel would have had a bal

David Cuffley The longest arguments often develop over seemingly the most trivial matters - and so it was among the Press corps after Tuesday's Championship match between Norwich City and Wolves.

David Cuffley

The longest arguments often develop over seemingly the most trivial matters - and so it was among the Press corps after Tuesday's Championship match between Norwich City and Wolves.

The whole debate, which became just a little prickly, centred on what constitutes an own goal, after a match in which three of the goals scored by the Canaries in their 5-2 win divided opinion among journalists and broadcasters.

First there was Sammy Clingan's free-kick, which gave City the lead, officially recorded, it seems, as an own goal by Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme.

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Then there was Leroy Lita's first goal, where defender Kevin Foley got the final touch before the ball crossed the line, and Lita's third goal, where his header from another Clingan free-kick was deflected by the head of Neill Collins.

Both goals were given to the on-loan Reading striker as part of his hat-trick.

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City secretary Kevan Platt explained that in the absence of a “dubious goals panel” of the kind that operates in the Premier League, Championship clubs were guided by the decision of the Press Association representative at each match.

If PA transmit “Ikeme own goal” to the football nation at large, it goes on record as such.

In my view, under that policy, Clingan was unlucky and Lita, at least in the case of his third goal, was perhaps a little fortunate.

Clingan's swerving free-kick was on target and if it carried sufficient force to knock the goalkeeper off balance so that he fell back over the line with the ball in his hands, all credit to the Northern Ireland midfielder.

Ikeme did not divert an off-target effort into the net, so, to me, that was Clingan's goal.

City boss Glenn Roeder, writing in his Norwich Evening News column yesterday, was adamant his player had scored.

He said: “I always take the same view - ask the goalkeeper who he would rather have the goal attributed to. I'm 100 per cent certain he would say the opposing player.

“Why do people have to try to be clever about it? As far as I am concerned, it's Clingan's goal. The free-kick was on target and whether the goalkeeper allowed it to cross the line is not really an issue. It's Sammy's goal for me.”

The goalkeeper “own goal” used to be a comparative rarity, saved for those hugely embarrassing moments such as former Leeds No 1 Gary Sprake throwing the ball into his own net at snowbound Anfield to prompt the playing of Des O'Connor's “Careless Hands” at half-time, or Liverpool's Bruce Grobbelaar, facing his own goal, running slap bang into a clearance by one of his team-mates and knocking the ball home for the only goal in the 1984 Charity Shield match against Everton at Wembley.

Now it seems every fumble or deflection off the back of a 'keeper's head - such as happened to Lee Camp against Sheffield Wednesday during his loan spell at Norwich two years ago - is liable to go down in the record books as a goalkeeper own goal.

The issue is far from clear-cut, either, where it relates to outfield players.

TV replays suggest that Lita's header for his third goal against Wolves may just have gone wide but for the intervention of Collins, but he was awarded the goal by PA and went home clutching the matchball.

Strikers are always keen to claim the credit to boost their goal tally, helped by the fact that the opposing player is unlikely to want the dreaded “og” against his name.

One of the most dubious claims relating to a match at Carrow Road, however, was that made by our Suffolk cousins over Ipswich's late winner in the East Anglian derby of February 2006.

Our fellow scribes at Ipswich are adamant to this day that the goal was scored by Danny Haynes, perhaps because it adds more weight to the story that Haynes always scores against the Canaries, whether it's at youth, reserve or first team level.

However, replays showed clearly that Haynes' only contact with the ball was with his arm, whereas City defender Gary Doherty in fact knocked it over the line. Official sources correctly record it as a Doherty own goal, however unfortunate for the player.

The derby is a fixture that has thrown up many an own goal and Gary Megson, Jason Cundy and Robert Ullathorne are among those who would doubtless rather not be reminded of it.

But these were clear, unassisted own goals, rather than deflections of opponents' shots.

If the dubious goals panel had been around in 1985 and assessing cup competitions, how would they have viewed one of City's most high-profile goals, Asa Hartford's Milk Cup final winner against Sunderland at Wembley?

Hartford has always been credited with the goal in City's records, though the electronic scoreboard at Wembley at the time displayed it as a Gordon Chisholm own goal.

Hartford's shot was on target, but was certainly taken out of the path of goalkeeper Chris Turner by the deflection off Chisholm's chest.

One ex-Canary whose record, one hopes, is unlikely to be broken is that of central defender Ian Butterworth, who scored three own goals in one season in 1986-87 and knocked his side out of two cup competitions in the process.

Butterworth, it must be said, was one of the most polished defenders in City's First Division history but his impressive first season with the club was also dogged by misfortune.

First he inadvertently deflected Paul Jewell's shot past Bryan Gunn to give Wigan, then a Division Three side, a 1-0 win at Springfield Park in the FA Cup fourth round.

Then he slid home an own goal in extra time to give Charlton a 2-1 victory in the Full Members' Cup semi-final at Selhurst Park, and with it a place at Wembley.

But his coup de grace came in the Division One home match against his former club, Coventry, when he beat Gunn again with the header that gave the Sky Blues a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

To crown it all, Butterworth's goal gave one happy punter one of his eight score draws that day and a pools jackpot - and the City centre-back had the dubious honour of being asked to present the cheque to the lucky winner.

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