The Handball Hullabaloo - still the biggest grey area in football

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Football News

Leicester City extended their lead to seven points at the summit of the Premier League table over the weekend.

Their hard-fought 1-0 victory over Southampton, however, was fraught with controversy. During a key period in the first half, when the Saints were dominating the Foxes, Sadio Mane found himself through on goal with only Kasper Schmeichel to beat.

Having expertly rounded the goalkeeper, the Senegalese forward must have been deciding whether a cartwheel or a fusillade celebration would better convey his elation in front of the away supporters. But the net did not ripple, and Mané was left dejected not having registered his sixth goal of the season. There would be no ammunition in his finger rifle that day.


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Leicester's saviour on this occasion was Danny Simpson. Initially beaten for pace, the right-back sprinted beyond his keeper, and as a bodyguard would jump in front of a flying bullet for his master, Simpson blocked the ball less spectacularly with his forearm tucked by his side.

This was never a clear-cut penalty as Steven Taylor's notorious 'sniper to the chest' antics of yore. Referee, Michael Oliver, was unmoved and, surprisingly, appeals from the Saints were as vociferous as a yawning baby.

Incident forgotten, captain, Wes Morgan powered in a header after a luscious cross from fellow defender Christian Fuchs. The Kingpower was rattling once more.

In the second-half, another handy incident came to the attention of the referee. From close range, Charlie Austin's low cross struck Robert Huth's clenched fist, subsequently diverting the ball harmlessly behind. A corner, instead of a penalty, was awarded, to the dismay of Austin and Ronald Koeman. After a quick examination of the ball for punctures, following a sledgehammer to its skin, play continued as usual. Leicester held on for another three crucial points.

As with numerous other games in the footballing archives, this one highlighted the ambiguity of the handball rule. Decisions about misconduct and foul play in football will be ever subjective.

Tumultuous cries of the aggrieved supporters who swear by their blood that the ball hit the arm deliberately can often be silenced by the wagging of the referee's finger. All the while, the defender attempts to conceal the pain shooting up his arm with a relieved smile. Evidently, penalties are awarded too. Gary O'Neil conceded one following his handball against Newcastle on Saturday.

But what makes his more deliberate than Simpson's or Huth's. The proximity is a disputed factor. The movement of the arm towards the ball usually provokes more successful outbursts for a penalty or free-kick.

Ultimately, it's the referee's decision with the aid of his officials. What can we do as fans, but kick the occupied seat in front of us, scream at our plasma screens until our voices are hoarse, or demand a fingerprint check of the Nike Ordem football? Video footage would detract from the freneticism of the beautiful game.

Should all balls that graze the hand in the box be given as a penalty? No. The game would lose its subjective nature, and debates in pubs and bars across the country would be no more. Football, like many other sports, is a game of emotions. Emotions controlled, at times, by an arbitrator. We must experience the harsh lows of this as well as the glorious highs.

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Danny Simpson
Leicester City
Gary O'Neil
Premier League
Robert Huth

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