Saturday 27 June 2009

Paying the penalty - with Crazyhorse

Has there ever been a more pointless debate about an incident that occurred during a live TV game than the one involving Millwall’s thrice-taken penalty against Peterborough United at The Den? Honestly, you would think people would have better things to do with their time but it seems everything is controversial these days – even if someone was merely following the rules of the game that are there for everyone to read in print if they can be bothered. Its not as if Peterborough even had a case, which probably explains Posh manager Darren Ferguson’s reluctance to talk about it after the game. He moved. It was caught on camera. End of story. Or so you would think.

The funniest part of the whole incident was keeper Joe Lewis’ adamant stance that he did nothing wrong, despite the fact replays clearly showed that he had moved both on both occasions before the Gary Alexander struck the ball, even if the first re-take was touch and go. He even moved on the third kick but Dave Martin had the good grace to end the farce there and then so we could get on with the game. However, in the days following the game he cried his heart out to anyone that would listen, including The Sun, who love a good story and described the entire incident as “potty”.

“It's a sickener that I saved two penalties and neither counted,” blubbed Lewis. “The ref wouldn't even tell me why. The linesman told me it was because I had come off the line. I got the feeling they wouldn't be happy until Millwall had scored. I wondered if it was worth diving for the third. Had I saved that they probably would have made them take it again.” Well, yes they probably would have because you moved again and this is the point Lewis, the pundits, Sky Sports News and seemingly everyone else who felt aggrieved on Peterborough’s behalf failed to acknowledge fully even if some did begrudgingly recognise it.

Despite changes in the rulebook regarding penalties, goalkeepers are not allowed to move of off their line and haven’t been allowed to for over 100 years. The reason for this is because too many keepers used to charge out to narrow the angle when penalties were first introduced so they only have themselves to blame really. However, the rule about moving on the line has been relaxed in recent years to give them a sporting chance after being told to stand firm until the ball was kicked, which has allowed for a grey area to creep in, similar to that of the offside rule and the non-existence passage loved by so many about “daylight”. A goalkeeper can move up and down his line, flap his arms about like a demented chicken and even do the Grobbelaar spaghetti legs but if he makes a significant move off of his line and makes a save then the kick has to be retaken. Hence why Lewis was penalised. Twice.

Shortly after the game Sky Sports rang up former ref Dermot Gallagher to get his expert insight into the matter and he clarified that yes, goalkeepers can move to adjust their balance within reason but they cannot make a concerted effort to move towards the ball to narrow the angle – as Lewis did on all three occasions. However, he then contradicted himself and muddied the waters by suggesting that although the referee and linesman were technically correct, it went against the spirit of the game. This last comment was particularly baffling. How can it be against the spirit of the game when someone has blatantly broke the rules? Well, it’s not for me to explain why. Best leave it to someone who is more mild-mannered and can offer a more rational judgement. Cue Barry Fry.

“They said Joe moved off his line, but 999 out of 1,000 keepers do the same.”

And there you have it. The saves should have counted because everyone does it. A rationale that’s best reserved for a TalkSport phone-in.

The simple fact is that Lewis broke the rules and was punished accordingly. The problem is that with today’s armchair referees and expert pundits putting the oar in this fact has become lost and rather than accept the fact that yes, the Posh keeper did move off of his line thus gaining an unfair advantage, the linesman and the referee have been put under the spotlight for simply following the rules of the game. Linesman Steve Creighton therefore deserves a little credit for sticking by his guns and being fair with the laws of the game rather than simply let it slide in return for an easy life.

And what about Lewis? It was clear that the decisions affected the rest of his game and he was continuing to play the victim with such comments as “I don’t think I did anything wrong”. He has also foolishly gone on record has saying that he will continue to move when facing any future penalty kicks and will not toe the line. Personally if I was a Posh fan I’m not sure what I would be more concerned about – the fact that your goalkeeper can let a decision get to him so badly or the fact that your goalkeeper doesn’t know the rules of the game.

Older readers may remember the same thing happening to Millwall goalkeeper Bryan King in the early 1970s. However, unlike Lewis, King saved all three spot kicks - and the rules were far less lenient back then. Had the third gone in on that occasion I wouldn’t have imagined King crumbling the way the Peterborough goalkeeper did and he probably wouldn’t have gone crying to the press either. Some people really need to grow up.