Crooks’ Soccer Journal: On the ambiguity of the hand ball rule



On Sunday morning, I was cooking breakfast for my family and watching Arsenal-Sunderland with the volume down. I was in the mood to listen to some Springsteen.

While glancing up to view a Sunderland possession, there appeared to be a handball by the Gunner’s Per Mertesacker on a Jermaine DeFoe side volley in the area. After watching the replay, I was even more certain that a spot kick should have been awarded in a 0-0 match and the Black Cats teetering on the edge of relegation.

It was startling to me that such an obvious violation was either undetected or ignored (you can see the clip at the 6:20 mark here).

Mike Dean, the highly respected man in the middle, bravely discounted any intention on the play in front of a feisty group of supporters at the Stadium of Light. Mertesacker had turned his back on the DeFoe shot and was subsequently rewarded for his poor and not-so-courageous defending technique, when his arm prevented the arrow from finding its bullseye. My computer was open and I sent this to my followers:

Robin Buss is my Dr. Joe Machnik. Buss, who had officiated a number or my club and college matches through the years, has retired and moved back to his native England. We remain connected as friends and through the disputed calls that generate squabbles in the soccer community on a weekly basis. I trust his judgements and interpretations without reservation.

As soon as I completed my demonstrative tweet, I followed with rapid keystrokes to express my dismay in an email to Buss.

“Glenn, your understanding of a hand ball is incorrect!! That is your own personal interpretation of the law – and it’s wrong,” replied Buss.

A short time later, I received another email from Buss: “Fouls and Misconduct Law 12, Handling the Ball” from the “FIFA Laws of the Game.”

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the
ball with the hand or arm.
The following must be considered:
• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement
I have coached and viewed thousands of soccer matches. Without peer, the hand ball judgement is the least consistent decision by officials.

The number of intentional hand balls I have observed at any level is miniscule. By the letter of the law, a handball violation should be as rare as an open field tackle by Andrea Pirlo.

MLS disciples will remember this “hand towards ball” incident from nearly two weeks ago when Orlando City gained the late advantage versus New England.

Baldemero Toledo, the referee in his 210th MLS match, missed the intentional hand ball by Molino.

“Handball can be a difficult call for the referee as he has to judge that it was deliberate as opposed to accidental,” wrote Buss. “He does not have to do that with the other free kick calls.”

Precisely! Simplify the law to ease the burden on the officials. Here is my amended version of Law 12:

“If any player handles the ball and gains an advantage, whether purposeful or not, it is a hand ball violation and results in a free kick.”

I welcome all opinions on the matter and will publish the most coherent submissions in my journal next week.


David Villa needed momentary assistance from the translator, but was clear about his disappointment and frustration after Montreal scored a set piece equalizer in the 91st minute Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

“They (Montreal) are very good at set pieces but we had 6 games with no win,” sighed the NYCFC captain. “If Montreal had 10 giants it is not possible to score this goal. It is our life and we need to think that way.”

Ethan White was on the wrong side of his mark BEFORE the set piece was taken. Dominic Oduro slipped in behind White, and Didier Drogba’s front post service delivered a road point for the Impact on the Oduro finish. There were additional breakdowns on the stoppage time goal – goalkeeper, Josh Saunders, reacted late to the dead ball cross and Mikey Lopez got smothered lost Ambroise Oyongo who was also unrestricted at the first post along with Oduro. Either player could have scored.

Defending breakdowns and poor marking also led to a pair of goals in a road loss to Philadelphia on Saturday.

“I think we play good – we create more than the other teams,” said Villa who has failed to score on 21 shots over the last two matches . “Maybe we not deserve because we give a lot of presents for the other teams – always.”