Goals (Part 1): Dreadful decision from EPL ref Dowd nixes Suarez's brilliant record-breaking goal

By Paul Gardner

In Anthony Burgess’ novel “The Doctor Is Sick,” the doctor (not a medical doctor, but a linguist) is in a hospital ward where his neighbor talks aloud in his sleep. He intones soccer scores:

Blackburn 10 Manchester United 5
Nottingham Forest 27 Chelsea 2
Fulham 19 West Ham 3

The fantastic scorelines are enough to show that the guy is off his rocker. No one but a loony could imagine those scores. Everyone knows soccer is a stingy sport when it comes to goals. Stingy? There are times when it seems the sport doesn’t even want goals.

We had such an example this weekend, in England -- where, I imagine, it passes for good refereeing. A quickly taken free kick from Liverpool’s Luis Suarez -- quickly and brilliantly taken, sending the ball, with one calculated swipe of Suarez’s right foot, sailing some 35 yards, over the Newcastle goalkeeper, and into the net. No goal, said referee Phil Dowd.

Why not? Well, it seems, Suarez had not waited until Dowd blew his whistle. Waited, in other words, until Dowd was sure that the defending team -- the team that had committed the foul! -- had got itself organized. Does an attacking player have to wait for the referee’s signal? No. The rules do not back up that assertion. Nowhere do the rules say that he must do so -- but twice the rules (or the Interpretation section) use the phrase “If a player decides to take a free kick quickly ...” which clearly acknowledges the right to take a free kick as quickly as possible, without any mention of what the referee may require.

Or maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe Dowd disallowed the goal because the ball was still rolling when Suarez kicked it. That would make it illegal. But the replay shown during the NBC telecast shows that the ball had just come to a stop at the moment when Suarez kicks it. That, at least, is my reading of it.

There may be -- well, there will be -- others who insist that the ball was still moving, though how they can be sure baffles me. This another of those millimetric soccer decisions in which the rulebook and referees seemed determined -- always -- to award the benefit of the doubt to the defensive team. After years of bitching and moaning about this, I’m still waiting for anyone in authority to give me a logical reason for that bias.

I won’t press the point because Dowd’s ineptitude was a lot worse than merely applying the standard anti-goal mentality. In this incident, the truth is that Dowd could not have made that absurdly millimetric decision anyway. Because Dowd wasn’t even looking -- dare one say, of this highly praised (in England, anyway) referee that he was not paying attention? -- when Suarez “scored” what was a pretty remarkable goal.

Replays available online show Dowd, having blown his whistle for the foul on Suarez, turning away from the play to talk to a Newcastle player. As Dowd had given no sign that he required the players (meaning the attacking players, of course) to wait for his whistle, what on earth was he doing turning his back on the play?

He was doing what English referees constantly do, doing something that he does more frequently than most. Chatting. Chatting to players. This comes under the heading of “man management” and is widely held to be a good thing. It obviously was not a good thing here, and I seriously question its value anyway.

The job of the referee -- the very difficult job of the referee -- is to enforce the rules. It is quite definitely not his job to explain the rules to the players. They are supposed - they are really required - to know those rules. That is part of the deal when you become a pro player, that you will know the rules, and that you will abide by them.

So all these little chats, most of them after a foul, most of them evidently offered instead of a yellow card ... what can the referee be saying? I have asked, repeatedly, over many years, and of many referee authorities, why we can’t be let in on the secret, why we cannot be allowed to know what is being said by the referees.

Obviously, I’m not very persuasive. Despite plenty of assurances from various people that all will be revealed, despite the fact that it’s a lot easier now that everything is recorded, I’m still waiting.

Dowd’s chattiness is particularly irritating. It’s no surprise at all to me that he would be found chatting to a player and ignoring a crucial moment in the game. He evidently enjoys having a chummy relationship with the players. But trying to come over as “one of the lads” is also not part of the referee’s job.

It ought to be part of the referee’s job to tell us what he is doing. After blowing for the foul, did Dowd give any indication that the free kick could not be taken until he whistled? Usually this is done by holding up the whistle and pointing at it. I can’t see any sign of Dowd doing that.

Of course, part of his problem was that Suarez was simply too quick for him. By the time Dowd turned to face the play, the ball was already in the Newcastle net. At that point, Dowd did give some sort of arcane movement with this left hand as he ordered the kick to be retaken, but it’s impossible to say what he meant. It looked like that gesture indicating too much talk, with the hand opening and closing. If it was that, it can only have applied to Dowd himself. That seems an unlikely signal to come from Dowd.

By not being alert, by turning away to talk to a player, and then applying the pro-defense referee mentality, Dowd made a total hash of this call. He canceled one of the cleverest, most artful goals of the season -- a goal that would have been Suarez’s 32nd, a new record for an EPL season. Appalling refereeing.

10 comments about "Goals (Part 1): Dreadful decision from EPL ref Dowd nixes Suarez's brilliant record-breaking goal".
  1. Zoe Willet, May 12, 2014 at 10:02 p.m.

    I don't always agree with you, but this is one of your better efforts! Your points are well taken and well expressed.

  2. R K, May 12, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.

    I'm not a Gardner guy. But man he nailed this one. Great job, sir.

  3. Kent James, May 12, 2014 at 10:15 p.m.

    While "managing" the players is important (it is easier to ref when 22 players don't hate you), and talking to someone who committed a foul can have some utility ("that was very close to a yellow card; anything else even close will get you a card, and it may not be yellow"), in this situation, the Dowd clearly blew it. As Gardner points out, the rules clearly indicate that the offensive players should be given the opportunity to take a free kick if they want to do so. At lower levels, many defenders ask the ref to make the kick on his whistle, but it is only the offensive players that do so. Of course at the upper levels, the defensive players usually just stand in front of the ball, to prevent people like Suarez from doing what he did. And in a similar vein, when refs see the defenders doing this they tell them they must move back (as if they didn't know) instead of carding them. I'll never understand why refs tolerate such flagrant (and easily correctable) violations of the rules...

  4. R2 Dad, May 13, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.

    I've ony seen the GIF of this play, but it cuts out just as the ball goes in the net--too soon to see if the AR runs up the line indicating a good goal. Am very curious if the AR did that, or if Dowd's whistle precluded that. Important, since the AR was right on top of the play. Kent makes a good point about defenders standing in front of the ball during a direct free kick. I've seen it at the professional level, and the application of the LOTG are variable at best. Youth players mimic this tactic, then go mental when they get their well-deserved caution. Referees of all levels should be more consistent here.

  5. Matt Stachler, May 13, 2014 at 1:40 p.m.

    Well written, to the point and accurate.

  6. Barry Ulrich, May 13, 2014 at 2:41 p.m.

    Totally agree with Kent and R2. When Referees start cautioning players for positioning themselves directly in front of he ball (Unsporting Behavior; Delay of the Game) to prevent the immediate taking of a free kick (as the Laws permit!) I believe we will see a little more exciting futbol, as was evident in the Suarez case.

  7. ckg beautiful game, May 14, 2014 at 5:19 a.m.

    English refereeing is on par with English coaching and English performances by English players. It's really boring and in the worse shape it's been in for some time. It's a foreshadow of its former self.

  8. Abraham Flitzer, May 14, 2014 at 3:10 p.m.

    I never thought that Dowd was a good referee as you've been saying, to many private conversation and shit shat with the players besides he is totally out of shape. He needs to go back to youth games or find a different thing to do but Premier League should be out for him. I also don't know what qualifies these guys to be called "Referees" some of their upcoming Refs are not much better either.

  9. Paul Spacey, May 20, 2014 at 3:53 p.m.

    Decent article Paul and agree with some of your comments on attacking players being allowed the benefit of the doubt.

    From a referees' point of view, you cannot be sure if the ball was still moving but Dowd was facing the other way anyway and should have been watching the ball, you are spot on there.

    Where you are wrong, clearly wrong, is questioning the value of communicating with players. It sets apart the better referees from the rest - I say this from experience as a player and also a referee for the past 4-5 years in the UK and US.

    It really is easy to criticize referees when they make a mistake or do something that most people who have not been referees do not appreciate or understand. I agree that the standard could be better and the job is actually not as difficult as referees make it out to be. However, it is certainly not as easy or straight forward as most fans/media believe, judging by the majority of comments and articles I read.

    For most people, officiating just one game (yes, ONE) is enough to realize that their belief of what looks like an 'easy' job is not so easy after all.

    Have you ever officiated a game Paul?

  10. Ramon Creager, May 23, 2014 at 11:33 a.m.

    A while back during a post-season evaluation meeting I had an interesting discussion with another (very good) referee on this very issue. Too many people are hung up about the ceremonial nature of free kicks, and by the 10 yard requirement. This ref made the point that the fouled team is entitled to take a free kick immediately, *regardless* of the positions of the opposing players (and by extension that any players within 10 yards of this free kick should not be cautioned unless they actively prevent the kick), and that allowing this is the first priority for the ref. The ref should drop into the ceremonial kick mode only if opponents interfere with the ability to take the quick kick, or if the fouled team asks for help. *Only then* should a referee step in and caution for encroachment, if it is warranted, mark off yardage etc. So it appears that in this case Dowd was hung up with the ceremonial aspect of most free kicks, skips the first step and was caught with his pants down as Suarez, well within his rights, scores.

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