The new handball rule is wrecking the game and infuriating fans

MARTIN SAMUEL: The new handball rule is wrecking the game and infuriating those who love it… this bungled attempt at clarity has only resulted in gross miscarriages of justice

  • This weekend’s Premier League action featured yet more handball controversy
  • Only the comically insane would give the handball against Eric Dier on Sunday 
  • VAR was supposed to end the drama, but no one understands the rules anymore
  • Under the current handball rules, football is lacking justice and consistency 

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer invented a character called Judge Nutmeg. He would preside over a game of ‘That’s Justice’ where citizens were tried for random and nonsensical crimes.

The punishments were decided by spinning the Wheel Of Justice. ‘Spin, spin, spin the Wheel of Justice,’ those assembled would chant, ‘see how fast the b*****d turns.’

One imagines IFAB meetings operate on similar lines. 

There was huge controversy after Eric Dier was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area

Jose Mourinho was left fuming after Spurs were robbed of two points by the handball call

Only a surreal environment could come up with the handball rule as it stands now. Only the comically insane would give the penalty against Eric Dier yesterday. It was a pity Jose Mourinho chose not to speak after. He is an intelligent man and intelligence is sorely missing from football’s hierarchies these days. VAR was supposed to end controversy with undeniable fact. It was intended to make grey areas black and white. This is the result.

Driving north to Manchester yesterday, there were two games on the radio. Both had inconsequential handball incidents — this was before the highly consequential one at Tottenham, obviously.

On each occasion, the professional observer — the figure present in the stadium because he played the game and could therefore offer insight to laymen at home — admitted that, no, he didn’t have a clue what was the right decision any more.

Now some may cynically suggest this is a reflection of the standards of modern broadcasting, but that isn’t true. Managers don’t comprehend the rules any more, nor do players — or journalists. On Saturday, I was sitting on the sofa next to a Chelsea fan, who had watched her team claw two goals back from 3-0 down at West Brom. And then Tammy Abraham scored the equaliser. 

Bruno Fernandes netted a stoppage time winner after Neal Maupay’s hand was hit by the ball

Before she could celebrate, I broke the news gently. ‘Don’t bother,’ I said. ‘That’s handball by Havertz. There’s no way that counts.’

Shows you what I know. Yet, like the managers, players, experts and broadcasters, I had confused what was fair and logical with the rules. Havertz’s arm stopped the ball going out of play. He didn’t mean to do it but a goal had indirectly resulted, so it seemed a rather obvious call.

Without Havertz’s arm, West Brom would be taking time out of the game, dawdling over a goal-kick restart and would quite probably have won.

Of all the handball decisions this weekend, that was the most obviously unjust — arguably even more so than on Sunday, when the Wheel of Justice turned again and Dier was deemed culpable for a deflection he could not even have seen coming. 

A ball struck Joel Ward on the arm in the penalty area after Lucas Digne’s headed knockdown

Elsewhere, Brighton’s Neil Maupay led with an arm while jumping to defend a ball in the area and got what was coming.

Joel Ward of Crystal Palace was trying to get his arm out of the way when he handled against Everton, but there was an advantage gained and the limb was extended.

It was harsh but, in just about any year since the game’s inception, that could have gone either way. And that’s how it should have stayed. Referee’s interpretation. His call.

The rule-makers have tried to impose black and white judgments on a facet of the game that, out of necessity, remained grey. Calculating deliberate actions versus inadvertent ones was fraught and inconsistent. Managers moaned and fans argued. But it was better than this. Better than a bungled attempt at clarity that has only resulted in gross miscarriages of justice. 

Kai Havertz also appeared to handle the ball against West Brom, so why was that not given?

Some referees would have called handball against Palace, others wouldn’t. Some would have imbued Havertz’s arm with significance, others might not. Yet the calls would at least have been sincere.

This, however, is just rot, the worst of all possible worlds. Lacking justice, lacking consistency, ruinous to the game and infuriating to those who love it.

This is the world of Judge Nutmeg — a world only referees could love. 

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