The final arbiter in a football game is the referee. According to Law 5 of the IFAB laws (the International Football Association Board – the lawmakers of football), the referee has the full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with a match and shall make his or her decision according to the Laws of the Game and with discretion the ‘spirit of the game’.
It is important to state that referees are human beings. Therefore, the dictum: “To err is human”, applies to referees as it is only natural for them to make mistakes. The referees have one of the toughest jobs as they have to make difficult decisions in split seconds.
However, there have been times when players, coaches, technical staff, and even fans have wanted to beat, and in some cases, actually descended, on referees for what they deem as wrong and horrible decisions. Just like civil servants, referees are expected to be seen but not heard. But when they make mistakes, referees then become the talking point of the match, instead of the match and the teams that played.
Although they are complemented by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) these days, the timeline in which they have to review slow-motion replays and make a decision is limited. Such decisions, as earlier mentioned, may or may not change the course of a game. The impact of decisions deemed to be wrong makes the game worthwhile for the supposed recipient, while it mars the match for the perceived victim.
How referees’ decisions ruin football matches
As earlier stated, the referee is the official who makes the final decision connected with a match, even with the existence of VAR. However, whenever referees make wrong decisions, they become more prominent and affect the team(s) involved.
Referees ruin decisions when they make the following decisions, including but not limited to:
- Issues a red card unjustly
- Awarding an unjust penalty or freekick in a dangerous situation
- Failure to discipline an opposing player who commits a dangerous foul or a deliberate handball in the penalty box and/or any other area of the pitch
- Not awarding/disallowing a properly scored goal or awarding a bogus goal
- Mistaken identity when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player of the offending team
- Not spotting offside calls when an attacker is offside en route to goal or wrongly adjudging an attacking player to be offside.
Such wrong decisions may occur probably due to the referee being biased, wrongly positioned, anxious, influenced by the home crowd, or influenced by a star player. These wrong decisions by referees ruin matches as they may cost a particular match or even a tournament for a team.
By losing that particular match, a team may likely miss out on the financial prize(s) for the winner of that particular game or tournament. It also causes low morale for the entire players and technical crew, particularly if the match played is in the knockout stage of a tournament. In the case of a tournament’s knockout stage, the team fails to advance to the next stage, and the players of the eliminated team do not have the chance to further display their skills to the world.
For the fans, it is a crushing blow to them that their team will lose a match based on a dodgy decision, especially for those who have travelled from their places just to support their team. It is even more complicated today as the fans’ passion is not just limited to supporting their team but also taking gambles on their team via betting on betting sites. It is only natural for fans who have staked money on a team for a particular game and then see that team lose through a controversial decision to be disheartened.
Top 10 games ruined by poor refereeing decisions
Since the international football association formally commenced in 1904, there have been thousands of games played across the world in which referees have made silly errors. Some of these games were not captured due to the non-existence and/or a lack of technological and electronic devices to record.
However, the proliferation of television by the late 1930s provided viewers of the beautiful game to not only watch but also document these games for historical purposes. Therefore, listed below are 10 matches that were ruined by the poor decision of the referees.
Leeds vs. West Brom (1970/1971 season)
The top-flight league in England as of the year under review was known as The Football League. Leeds United were battling for the 1970/1971 league title with Arsenal. Playing against West Brom, The Whites needed to win to maintain their title challenge against their North London rivals. But during the game, the linesman (as the assistant referees were then called) raised his flag to signal that West Brom player, Colin Suggett, was offside, and the Leeds defence stopped playing.
However, referee Ray Tinkler gestured that the game should continue, and West Brom went on to score. As a result, Leeds lost their title to Arsenal.
Germany vs. France (1982 World Cup)
The 1982 World Cup was hosted in Spain. France had gone into the tournament as favourites, thanks to the form of their mercurial playmaker, Michel Platini (who would in his later life become the President of UEFA).
In the semi-final of Les Blues’ game against Germany, a major controversy occurred when German goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, lunged into France’s Patrick Battiston in the penalty box. Battiston was unconscious for seven minutes and broke two teeth and three ribs due to the erratic lunge. Despite the severe situation of Battiston, the referee did not issue a red card to Schumacher; instead, he awarded a goal-kick to Germany.
The match ended 3-3, and Schumacher ended up being the hero for Germany in the penalty shootout, as he saved two spot-kicks. France had to settle for the Third Place Playoff game, while Germany headed to the final of the Mundial.
England vs. Argentina (1986 World Cup)
This match remains the most talked-about regarding a blatant error by a referee and fellow match officials. Six minutes into the second half of this 1986 World Cup quarter-final, with the game tied at 0-0, Diego Armando Maradona, the diminutive Argentine genius, contested for a ball in the air with the tall English goalkeeper, Peter Shilton.
Maradona latched onto a ball in the air with his left hand as he stylishly stretched out his left arm and knocked the ball past an onrushing Shilton into the net. Despite protestations by the English players, referee Ali Bin Nasser awarded the goal, and Maradona’s wild celebration would have probably influenced him.
Maradona then went on to score what is arguably the best goal in World Cup history and power his team to qualify for the semi-final and ultimately win the tournament. El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Boy) later described his goal as the “Hand of God.”
Everton vs. Bolton (1996/1997 season)
This piece now comes to the era of the Premier League, as the English top division is called. Everton and Bolton Wanderers were enmeshed in a relegation battle, and they both needed to win against each other when they clashed in the 1997 season.
Bolton’s Gerry Taggart had scored, or so he thought as the ball had crossed the line. However, the referee adjudged otherwise and did not award the goal for Bolton. The game subsequently ended in a 1-1 draw, and Bolton were relegated to the Championship. The situation was more disheartening for Bolton players and fans as they were just a point below Everton on the table on the season’s final day.
Nigeria vs. Cameroon (2000 Africa Cup of Nations)
This medium is a Nigerian publication, and it is not sentimental for it to highlight probably the greatest injustice done to the country’s beloved male national team, the Super Eagles of Nigeria. It was the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations final hosted in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, and the Super Eagles faced their eternal rivals and neighbours, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
After extra time, the match ended 2-2, and it went to a penalty shootout to decide the winner. Victor Ikpeba stepped up to play his spot kick, and the ball crossed the line as it hit the crossbar and rolled out of the net. However, referee Mourad Daami thought otherwise and adjudged that the ball had not crossed the line, thereby indicating it as a missed kick. In hindsight, referee Daami was probably influenced to make his decision, following the reaction of Ikpeba.
Following the poor refereeing decision, Cameroon won the match 4-3 on penalties and left Lagos with the trophy.
Italy vs. South Korea (2002 World Cup)
South Korea, alongside Japan, co-hosted the World Cup on Asian soil for the first time, and, as expected, there was an expectation by the partisan home crowd for the host teams to do well.
This expectation was probably rubbed on the officials for games involving South Korea. In their Round of 16 encounter against Italy, referee Byron Moreno gave Italy’s Francesco Totti his marching orders for diving. But from replays, it was clear that Totti went down under a hard challenge from South Korea’s Song Chong-gug in the box.
The icing on the cake occurred when referee Moreno chalked off the goal scored by Italy’s Damiano Tommasi for offside. Again, the replays showed that the decision was an incorrect one. South Korea won the game 2-1 and proceeded to the quarter-finals, in which they also controversially won their game against Spain.
Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2004/2005 season)
In this Premier League game played in January 2005, Tottenham’s Pedro Mendes fired a long-range shot from the halfway line, which caught Roy Carroll, Manchester United’s goalkeeper, off-guard. Carroll, who was out of position, fumbled the ball as he pushed it out only after it went over the line.
Mendes thought he had scored and began jubilating, but the referee indicated that the game should continue. The match ended 0-0, denying Spurs what could have been three vital points.
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Chelsea vs. Barcelona (2008/2009 UEFA Champions League)
The money-spinning UEFA Champions League is the world’s biggest club competition; all participating teams dream and aim to play in the final and loft high the “Big Ears” trophy.
That was certainly the dream and plan for Chelsea, as they hosted Barcelona in the second leg of their semi-final at Stamford Bridge in 2009. Needing to score at home to ensure qualification for the final, Chelsea toiled hard and aggressively attacked the Barcelona goal. The Blues had four separate penalty appeals, but referee Tom Henning Ovrebo waved them all off.
Heartbreak then occurred for Chelsea after Andres Iniesta scored late in the match to send Blaugranas into the tournament’s final. With tempers rising, there was an angry reaction from Chelsea’s players and fans towards the referee. Speaking a decade later, Ovrebo, who was threatened by angry fans, admitted that his performance was not top-notch on the night and that Chelsea should have been awarded a penalty.
France vs. Ireland (2010 World Cup qualifier)
France and Ireland faced each other in a playoff to determine who would qualify for the 2010 edition of the FIFA World Cup, the biggest international football competition.
The game entered extra time after ending 1-1 after 90 minutes. With a spot in the Mundial on the line, French striker Thierry Henry deliberately used his hands to guide the ball onto his path while in the Irish penalty box and then passed it to William Gallas, who converted the chance and scored the goal that sent France to the World Cup.
Ireland protested immediately after the incident occurred, but the referee stood by his decision and awarded the goal to France. Despite calls for a replay by pundits and fans, France’s participation in South Africa was confirmed by FIFA.
England vs. Germany (2010 World Cup)
England were 1-2 down against Germany in the Round of 16 encounter in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Frank Lampard scored a stunner from outside the box in the 39th minute to bring England level against Germany. The ball crossed the line before bouncing off the crossbar and rolling out.
But the assistant referee (linesman) ruled it out after he adjudged it not to have crossed the line. However, replays showed that the ball crossed the line fully, with clear space between the line and the ball inside the net. It was one of the most catastrophic referring decisions in history, with Germany winning 4-1 against England and proceeding to the quarter-finals.
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