A classic non-call of a blatant penalty kick foul

By Paul Gardner

Should Chelsea have had a penalty kick in the 86th minute of its game against Stoke City on Saturday? It didn’t get the call, so the question can be asked. But it is an absolutely ridiculous question.

Of course Chelsea should have had a penalty kick. If Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland’s challenge for the ball, and his tripping of Loic Remy in the process, was not a penalty kick, well by that standard of judgment -- the standard applied by referee Anthony Taylor -- we can’t expect to be seeing many, if any, penalty kicks in the future.

To their credit, the NBC studio guys, Kyle Martino and Robbie Mustoe called it right -- a flat-out penalty. But analyst Graeme Le Saux, who was at the game, said it wasn’t, and justified his opinion with nothing but fatuous drivel.

Le Saux played as a defender, so one can expect some bias in favor of the goalkeeper here. Just listen to this claptrap: “Butland came out to win the ball, he wasn’t trying to bring him [Remy] down.” How Le Saux can be so sure about Butland’s intentions, who knows -- but then it doesn’t matter.

Yet again, we’re confronted by a TV commentator who doesn’t know the rules. Intention simply does not enter into it. What counts is what Butland did, not what he thought, or what Le Saux thought Butland thought.

Clearly, Butland badly mistimed his challenge. He did not get to the ball. Remy had already played it when Butland arrived, clumsily. You could use that idiotic phrase that goalkeepers are so fond of -- Butland was making himself big. Inevitably, he clipped Remy, as Remy tried to hurdle him. Intentionally? Not relevant.

Remy was thrown off balance by the clip but tried to stay on his feet. Well, we hear so often these days that players go down too easily, so this was evidently praiseworthy. Le Saux duly tells us that “Remy should be applauded.”

Right. Applauded for trying the impossible and, in the process, giving referee Taylor an excuse to ignore the foul (as if he needed one). Had Butland not clipped him, Remy would have been on his feet, on balance, with the ball under control. A very likely scorer.

Despite his desperate (heroic, maybe) efforts to stay upright, Remy stumbled to the ground anyway, shooting wide as he fell.

Would it have been difficult for Taylor to see that Butland had tripped Remy? I think so. But referees are supposed to be, are required to be, good at seeing this sort of quick action.

Anyway, Taylor could certainly see that Butland did not get the ball, he could certainly see that Remy was off balance. So why, when there must have been only doubt, not certainty, in Taylor’s mind, would he give the benefit of that doubt to the defender? Who says that is the thing to do? Are referees -- English referees in this case -- instructed to favor defenders?

Further doubt about Taylor’s call arises because the defender involved was a goalkeeper -- and referees repeatedly show reluctance to punish goalkeepers (in this case, to call Butland for the foul should also have entailed red-carding him -- but referees have developed a habit of giving keepers only a yellow card).

Le Saux drivels on, starts contrasting “the letter of the law” with “the spirit of the game” (don’t ask), and points out that “no one really made a big fuss, no one on the pitch.” Of all the twisted arguments to use to justify a rotten call, this has to be the least acceptable. So if no one complains, it couldn’t have been a foul? Chelsea has been rightly criticized, and fined, in the past for mobbing referees. Here we see the likely alternative -- if you don’t protest, you don’t get the call. And your lack of reaction will be used as evidence that there was no foul.

Those are the lessons from this incident: Try to stay on your feet, and you won’t get the call. Don’t protest a bad call, and they’ll say the call couldn’t have been a bad one. A win-win scenario for defenders and referees who don’t want to give a penalty kick.

Le Saux isn’t finished. Having, ludicrously, defended a dreadful call by the referee, he tells us “We have to respect the call.” If he means we have to accept the call, OK, we do. But respect? No way. This was an atrocious call -- neither it, nor referee Taylor, merit any respect whatever. Quite the opposite. It is rank bad calls such as this that undermine respect for referees and refereeing.

As for Graeme Le Saux, who often does have sensible and interesting things to say, I can only express my amazement, yet again, that so many TV commentators (particularly the ex-players) can’t be bothered to read the rule book.

11 comments about "A classic non-call of a blatant penalty kick foul".
  1. Jogo Bonito, November 8, 2015 at 9:20 a.m.

    Well said PG ... I'd love to see a day where referees side with the attacking team rather than the defending team in close calls. Like this call (which wasn't really close if you ask me) or so many of the close offside calls where, if you watch the reply, an argument can be made that some part of the defender's body is in line with some part of the attacker's body. I say only call offside when there is clear separation between the two. How would the game change?

  2. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, November 8, 2015 at 9:24 a.m.

    Nobody knows drivel as well as Paul Gardner.

  3. Christopher Tallmadge, November 8, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    It was a penalty, but I am enjoying seeing Chelsea, Abramovich, and Mourinho flounder. Stuff like this just makes it more fun.

  4. E G, November 8, 2015 at 12:25 p.m.

    Not a penalty. No contact was made; therefore not a foul/penalty

  5. steve foster, November 8, 2015 at 5:14 p.m.


    Love your stuff,a prolific writer of the Beautiful Game indeed!

    Unfortunately, I must disagree with almost every point in your article.

    As a State level ref and a Chelsea fan, yI note that you fail to discuss important aspects of the play that warrant your readers attention.

    Firstly, it was not clear to me that there was contact between Butland and Remy. Even in slow motion I couldn't be sue there was contact. If no contact then the few must look at intent.

    We have as refs tried to take that word, Intent , out of the Laws. But the truth is refs cannot do so. Just look at hand balls. The laws state hand balls must be deliberate. One must make an interpretation to make this call.

    So, if we cannot be sure there was contact, then the ref looks at Tha actions of the players.

    First, the ref looks at what the keeper did. The actions of Butla d clearly, and I do mean CLEARLY, show his intent was not to commit a foul. The shape of his body,the position of his feet and his movement indicate nothing careless or reckless. Of course there was no excessive force either. So , for a foul to have been committed the keeper would have been deemed to be careless, which he was not.

    So, both Kyle and xxxxx got it wrong, La Saux was right, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but the ref, who clearly is well trained, was right.

    Pls continue to write your stories. All are interesting and engage the reader in a point of view.

    Unfortunatey, today that was the wrong one.

  6. beautiful game, November 9, 2015 at 11:18 a.m.

    Remy is at fualt in this situation. He should have never jumped over the keepers legs...IQ2 for jumping.

    EG, waht laws of the game do u follow? The intent (no trip) of the keeper brought Remy off balance, or was it something else?

  7. Jogo Bonito, November 10, 2015 at 8:52 a.m.

    steve foster thanks for clearing up something I've thought did a while. Referees simply do not get it. Think about this, Steve: a defending player throws his body at the feet of an attacking player with the ball but misses the ball completely causing the attacker to jump high in the air to avoid contact immediately after touching the ball skillfully past that sliding defender. Remi can no longer get to the ball as result of a challenge that never made contact with the ball. Steve, it's not whether the defender (gk or not) makes contact with the attacker - it's whether the defender makes contact with the ball. You simply can't have players flying at the feet of players in possession and never touching the ball. Contact or no contact Butland causes Remi to stumble without touching the ball and question of whether he touched Remi or not is irrelevant.

  8. robert charles, November 10, 2015 at 10:37 a.m.

    not a big PG fan except for his dedicated history to the game. Here he is spot-on as is Jogo. Steve gives an unfortunate example why reffing can be poor and dangerous (especially for youth) in US. Not sure what he was watching. No idea. Speaking as ref for 38years, instructor, assignor but mainly rules advocate and player here and europe...there are multiple interpretations of the foul committed but Steve's is not one of them except based on his vision of what he saw. Most experienced refs who also played would call it as reckless attempt to trip as he came full speed, really missed the ball threw both feet in, hence penalty yellow card and red if determined as preventing goal-scoring chance if a ref thought Remy's touch away from goal and more players getting to the line. More abstractly you could say in absence of any contact that it was impeding progress or dangerous play as he was not close to ball and headed opposite direction. Still reckless (not just careless) and at least a yellow but the latter 2 would be indirect. First interpretation -- penalty, yellow or red -- is correct call. jogo, your second response is well put, thanks and if that occurred anywhere on field it would be called a foul (and card) after momentary attempt to play on.

  9. robert charles, November 10, 2015 at 10:58 a.m.

    PS -- hit send too soon, other easy call if you don't like 'attempt to trip' is 'jumping at'; in a youth game, I would probably call "jumping at" with penalty as that is common foul for youth as they have often not been told its a foul. No words on intent in Laws of game regarding these fouls, except determining "attempt" for kicking, tripping and then determining careless vs reckless (yellow) vs excessive force (red).

  10. James e Chandler, November 10, 2015 at 10:59 p.m.

    One thing I agree with for sure in this article is the need for announcers to know the Laws of the Game. It irritates me to no end when there's an obvious ball to hand in a natural position, and the "analyst" keeps proclaiming it's an absolute handball for which a free kick should be awarded.
    The same holds true for coaches, and players. Stop lobbying the referee for calls that aren't. To those of us that understand the game you look pretty stupid.
    On the other hand, soccer being the microcosm of life that it is, dealing with ignorant people is just a part of it just like dealing with the opinion of the person that has the whistle in their hand for today's match.
    Knowing that the entire world is vetted for the best referees to work the World Cup who then too often get things mucked up, I've just accepted that, considering the physical demands, and need for instantaneous omniscience, that there's no such thing as a competent soccer referee on this entire planet.
    We either deal with it, or quit the game.
    On the other hand, referees that call handling when they shouldn't because someone's yelling they should, or not calling a foul because it's in the penalty area are failing the game for everyone else that's trying to facilitate the game the way its Laws define. No doubt awarding a kick from the mark is a game critical event, but no more critical than not giving it when it's deserved.

  11. Ginger Peeler, November 11, 2015 at 12:46 p.m.

    Agreed, Jogo, Robert and James. I keep saying that our announcers need to study the Laws and take, and PASS, at least a beginner's referee course. And what is it about us, as Americans, that makes us think our intentions determine whether we're to be punished for breaking a law? If you run over a child, who's riding a bike, with your car, you still get arrested...doesn't matter if you didn't mean to. Hey, maybe you were distracted looking at your cell phone. You STILL DID IT even if it was unintentional!!! And then, in soccer, some people say the guy doing the fouling "got the ball" as if that makes a leg-breaking tackle okay! Even the announcers are guilty of saying it!' Again, You fouled someone...doesn't matter if you touched the ball or not! It's still a foul!!! By the way, where's Santi...haven't seen any of his posts in awhile and he's often the first to comment?

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