Handball laws suggest City defender was right to be angered by penalty decision at Wigan
- Credit: PA
Ben Godfrey was clearly angered by the penalty decision given against him during Norwich City’s draw at Wigan – and Football Association laws suggest he had good reason to be.
Godfrey charged out to block a Sam Morsy shot from the edge of the box in the 45th minute and saw the ball deflect off the thigh of his leading leg and onto his arm, which was level with his chest.
The position of his arm is difficult to prevent in the momentum of a full-blooded challenge, however the deflection off his thigh appeared to be taking the ball away from goal, so the accidental block with his hand did not prevent the ball from flying into the net, his thigh did.
The penalty was scored by Reece James and of course this is all with the benefit of being able to watch slow-motion replays and study still images of the incident, the luxury referee James Linington did not have amid a hectic game as Wigan attacked the City goal.
However, as videos and photos of the incident show, the referee was positioned around 10 yards directly behind Morsy as he unleashed his shot so it’s questionable whether he could be certain of the contact the ball had made with the City defender – who went down holding his face in an apparently panicked attempt to confuse the officials.
The FA’s website lists the International Football Association Board (IFAB) Laws of the Game for 2018-19 on their website, with details on handball including: “Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.
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“The following must be considered: the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand); the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball); the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence.”
The offence certainly happened in the area, so a handball offence would be punished by a penalty, but the official doesn’t seem to have provided Godfrey leeway for the ball being smashed at him from less than five yards.
The matter is complicated further by IFAB’s law updates which come into force on June 1. While these stress that ‘deliberate handball remains an offence’ the updates include a foul for when: “The ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger.”
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Among these attempts to provide ‘greater clarity’ is the acknowledgement that: “If the ball comes off the player’s body, or off another player (of either team) who is close by, onto the hands/arms it is often impossible to avoid contact with the ball.”
The updates also state: “The following will not usually be a free-kick, unless: the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/near; the ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally bigger.”
While those new guidelines are not officially in use yet, they have been published and referees must be aware of what is considered to be handball in the eyes of the game’s lawmakers.
In reality though, Linington blew his whistle within two seconds and surely cannot have balanced all the above guidance fully. There must be a degree of referees making a snap judgement on whether the handball had enough of an impact on the flow of the game, so perhaps Godfrey’s attempts to grab his face actually suggested to the official that the youngster was trying to cover for a handball in real time.
As ever, referees do not come out to justify their decisions and all fans can acknowledge they have a really tough job, but if they are not sure that a deliberate handball has prevented an important part of the game – then they shouldn’t be giving penalties.
To boil it down further, the ball did hit Godfrey’s arm and Morsy was shooting at goal. Who’d be a referee, hey?!
Thankfully, City had the Championship Player of the Season to save them and Teemu Pukki ensured they didn’t leave the DW with a defeat because of a highly debatable penalty decision.