Mathew Booth seeing red - Sundowns v Supersport, 19 Mar09

 Maritzburg United v  Mamelodi Sundowns, Woodburn Stadium, Pietermaritzburg, 2 Oct09,

In the 17th minute Siyanda Xulu [of Sundowns] headed home ….  with referee Charl Theron initially awarding the goal. But after few seconds he controversially changed his decision and awarded the home team a free-kick for a handball.”

…  referee Charl Theron was the centre of controversy for a strange decision. A cross from the left flank saw Sundowns defender Siyanda Xulu foul [goalkeeper] Wardle [of Maritzburg Utd.]  in the air and force the ball into the goal. At first Theron seemed to have allowed the goal to stand, to the disbelief of just about everyone inside the Woodburn Stadium. Then he reversed his decision and awarded a free kick to the home team. It was, to Theron’s credit, the right call, but his way of getting there was utterly bemusing. “ —

Above two reports from, presumably, soccer scribes present at the above match.

“Strange decision … centre of controversy … controversially changed his decision … seemed to have allowed the goal to stand” and “ initially awarding the goal” and a real shocker – you awarded a home town decision by giving a “free-kick for a handball”

Reading these reports made me acutely aware that spectators – if they are not aware of FIFA’s Additional Instructions and Guidelines for Referees – are sometimes none the better off via football journalists reporting referee decisions to their readers. These journalists have, IMHO, also the further responsibility of informing their readers what actually transpired with regard to decisions, as indicated by the referee on the field of play.

All good and well you say. But what actually transpired? What does this “obscure” Additional Instructions preach on how referees should execute their decisions? What did you, in accordance with the Laws of the Game, actually indicate when you called the infringement on the goalkeeper of Maritzburg United, Herr Referee? And why did you confuse us? Praytell.

Well, just to make sure that I did not confuse myself – never mind the spectators – I watched the televised recording again, to see if moi was “utterly bemusing” in executing his decision when I did not award a goal to team Mamelodi Sundowns.  Here is what transpired, this time from the viewpoint of the spectator via the televised recording:

Fact: (1) Sundowns player Xulu jumps for high ball towards Maritzburg GK Wardle. The latter gets both hands on the ball first, and a split second later the head of Sundowns player Xulu connects with the arm of GK Wardle, thus bumping the ball out of his hands and it rolls into the goalmouth. Mr Xulu never touched the ball with any part of his body.  Contrary to the general saying that football is a team sport, until the GK makes a mistake, this, in defence of the bemused GK, is a foul. Now the fun starts as we delve deeper into the realm of controversiality. [Gack! My word processor indicates no such word 😦  Consider it invented.]

Fact: (2) There goes the whistle as the ball rolls into the goalmouth. The aforementioned Additional Instructions and Guidelines for Referees postulate thus on p.79: “ The whistle is NOT [italic theirs] needed to stop play for a goal.” The opposite is now also true, logic dictating thus: No goal, as there was a whistle.

Fact: (3) Now the ref is indicating (with his right arm) to the centre circle’s direction. Mmm, this seems confusing? Well, that is the direction the team that has not commited the  foul plays. Is the referee now pointing for a kick-off (goal) or not? Ahh, another clue: He is NOT running to the centre circle but stays rooted to the spot, a few yards from the penalty area.

Actually, a referee running now towards the infringed spot to indicate in no uncertain terms the infringement took place on this exact SPOT was not an option? Why? Running through/past more then one team of players that are still congregating in the same area, while some are glaring at their bemused GK, and others hugging fellow team mates, jumping with joy that their luck has finally turned for the better, invites encirclement of the referee, with possibly dissent to follow through words and/or action from the aggrieved parties. Better stay where you are, a few yards away then.

Fact: (4) Whaaaat? There’s an additional hand signal from the referee, with his left arm. He has two arms? Praise the Almighty! This hand indicates/pumps downwards, with an open palm facing the playing surface, several (three) times.

Fact: (5) Ahh, lookey here, this-left-arm-pumping-downwards-ref should NOT go about if he’s dunking his dog’s head under the water, as the selfsame Additional Instructions on the same page pontificates under the Body Language heading: “Body language is not an explanation of a decision.” How do you plead? Guilty my lord, with extenuating circumstances!  Utterly bemusing? Indeed.

Unfortunately, football/soccer referees are not blessed with the American football system in explaining their decisions to those that are not on the ball with arcane additional instructions, apart from some basic hand/arm signals allowed under Fifa’s Laws. In the USA the American gridiron referees have access to the stadium PA system, via an electronic transmitting system attached to their person, and can clearly, for all to hear around the stadium, explain their decisions.

I plead guilty to bending the Laws of the Game with my body language. It IS in the Law book dear reader, numbered “18”.