Sinking feeling hit home after TV angle revealed diving ploy

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IT MAY be a fact that is too often overlooked by our critics, but referees should never fall into the same trap. Even if others forget it, we should always remember that we are only human.

Like everyone else, we hate to be criticised, but if we deserve negative comments, we need to be honest about it, hold our hands up, apologise, and simply weather the storm. Not try not to let it affect future decisions.

Which is why I try not to clam up over mistakes. I am embarrassed by them, but once you’ve made them, they can’t be undone and you just have to move on. Fans will have their own views on my biggest blunder, but so far as I am concerned that was definitely my penalty decision in the Spain v the Czech Republic World Cup qualifier in 1997 - which was totally wrong, and, as it was a game the Czechs needed to win to have any hope of qualifying for France 98, I felt really bad.

As a rookie referee, sometimes you are concentrating so much on players’ feet as they run into the penalty box, watching for a trip or something like that, that when the player goes down, you think to yourself: "Never: that must have been a dive," until you see the incident on television later, and see that they were pushed in the back.

You then learn from that, and learn to take a step back and take in a bigger angle.

In that particular game, the Spanish player, Alfonso, ran into the box, and the Czech goalkeeper, Pavel Srnicek, dived at his feet and the player went down. The whole place went up. Penalty! At that point it was 0-0, and one of the major guys who decided which referees were going to the World Cup was there watching me, but I had never been more confident in awarding a penalty in my life.

Srnicek was indicating a dive, and I just thought: "Yeah, yeah, okay, whatever," and Pavel Nedved came up and sarcastically applauded into my face.

I booked the goalkeeper, Hierro scored, and it finished 1-0. Then I got back to the hotel and saw it on television, and Alfonso had actually jumped the goalkeeper and was at least two metres by him when he went down in a definite ploy to win a penalty.

That’s how much of a dive it was, but from the angle which I’d had at the game, it looked a cert. I will never forget how low I felt. The worst part was that, even on television, from the first four camera angles, it looked like I was right, and I remember thinking "Phew!" - just before they showed a fifth angle that proved it was never a penalty.

I knew that I had messed up, but by that time there was nothing I could do about it. It was an honest mistake and, thankfully, the rest of the game had been handled immaculately, so it didn’t affect me going to the World Cup the following year, but it honestly took me a while to get by that.

For a while after that, every time a player went into the penalty box, my stomach was churning. I eventually overcame that, but at the time it was a massive blow to my confidence, especially when I got it so wrong.

But we are not always wrong. I was slated in the newspapers during Euro 2000 for my handling of the Norway v Yugoslavia game, which helped to decide who went through to the next stage. It was probably one of the hardest games that I have refereed...ever, with time-wasting and people going down all over the place.

It was so difficult to know if they were genuinely injured or if they were faking it, but I stand by the key decisions that day. A young Mateja Kezman, who now plays for PSV Eindhoven and is one of the top scorers in Europe, came on as a substitute for Yugoslavia, but he was on for only 40 seconds when he committed a challenge.

I had no choice but to red-card him and, as you would expect, he was pretty distraught. He was in tears, and I was being criticised right, left and centre. It was headline-grabbing stuff afterwards, but the decision was there to be seen, and I was vindicated.

In the next game, Spain v Yugoslavia, I was in the ground watching the referee, and Kezman, who was suspended, actually came across and sat with, me and he apologised. He said: "Mr Dallas, I am very sorry. I am young, and I was excited at coming on. I was wrong."

I told him that I appreciated that, and said that he would become a better player for the experience, if he could learn to control his enthusiasm.

I don’t usually think of the consequences when I make a decision - it’s instinct - but that was a tough decision to take because I realised that he had just come on, but I couldn’t allow that to make any difference.

I felt sorry for him, but if I had let him stay on the pitch, he could have been the guy who went on to score the winning goal - and all of a sudden, the focus would have been switched back on to me.

It’s a huge responsibility, but referees are very strong mentally, and we know that it’s part of the job - and that is what we are paid for.

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