Why we're all to blame for football's nonsensical handball rule

This year’s change in the handball rule is the latest example of the lawmakers ‘ruining’ football. But before we cast any blame, perhaps we should all have a good look in the mirror.

Jamie Walker slots home the only goal of the game from the penalty spot as Hearts defeat Inverness CT at Tynecastle on Tuesday evening. Picture: SNS

During last night’s Premier Sports broadcast of Hearts against Inverness CT in the Betfred Cup group stage, Stephen Craigan lamented on commentary that referees were no longer allowed to use common sense. He was referring to match official Steven McLean’s decision to award Hearts a penalty for a handball against Cameron Harper. The teenager tried his best to have his arms tucked into his body, but with his fists raised towards this chin, thereby jutting out one unlucky elbow, he was deemed to be making an unnatural movement and was penalised for it.

Craigan is 100 per cent right that referees are no longer allowed to use common sense in such situations, but he is part of the reason why. We all are.

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Referees, especially in relation to the handball rule, used to be allowed to show a greater degree of common sense. The problem is that one person’s common sense differs from another, which is unfortunately something in the football world we have failed to grasp for decades.

How many times do you hear demands of “consistency!” from match officials? It’s a completely nonsensical insistence. Human beings aren’t consistent in their own behaviour from one day to the next, so how can we ask differing referees to follow the exact same path of their peers when there are so many grey areas in the rules of the game? And yet, we have continually derided referees for lacking such an elusive skill.

So what have the lawmakers done? They’ve simplified things. If we’re going to whip ourselves into an absolute frenzy – both the media and fans alike – every time there is a contentious decision then they’ve decided to remove some of the grey areas which lead to such anger. Former SFA head of communications Darryl Broadfoot recently said on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme that he’d been told by an official that if the ball strikes the hand or arm of a player in the penalty box then 90 per cent of the time it’s going to be a foul. It’s absurd, but it’s clearer.

That’s the world we’ve brought upon ourselves. It’s why VAR is now a huge part of football and probably here to stay. We demand an infallible referee. We demand there are no mistakes. It doesn’t matter if it spoils the spectacle of a game; if it punishes fans in the stadium for being there by keeping them in the dark while the TV-watching public is being catered to on their couches with an endless supply of replays. It doesn’t even matter if distracts from the single greatest, most precious thing in sports – a goal being scored in football. As long as we’re getting the “right” decisions, apparently nothing else matters.

Refereeing mistakes are a part of football. Learn to tolerate them in some way or watch football become even more intolerable.

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