GRAHAM POLL - The Official Line: The 'new' handball rule explained and why Newcastle got lucky with Fox penalty

Published on 26 February, 2013 
By: Mark Williams

Select group referees changed their stance regarding handball decisions this season and, in fact, advised Barclays Premier League managers that they would be doing so in pre-season briefings.

It must still be remembered that handball remains the only law which requires the act to be deliberate. Tripping for example has changed to just be a fact - did one player trip another.

foxFox in the box: Danny Fox of Southampton (right) handles the ball as Newcastle's Mathieu Debuchy races into the penalty area

I was taught to think 'hand to ball' when learning the laws to become a referee, but now you have to disregard that.

So how have referees changed their stance without a change to law?

The body who change law are the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which is comprised of eight members who all have one vote.

They are the federations (or FAs) of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales plus four votes for FIFA. As well as approve or ratify law changes they also issue guidelines or interpretations - advice to referees.

Are handballs dying out?

          Hand balls Yellows for h-b
2012-13    316..................14
2011-12    433..................15
2010-11    482..................21
2009-10    509..................26
2008-09    495..................23

fox 2Natural angle: West Brom's Gareth McAuley gets in the way of a thumping drive from Sunderland's Adam Johnson on Saturday. A penalty was not awarded despite the ball clearly striking the defender's arm

Regarding handball they now ask the referee to consider the proximity of the potential offender to the person last playing the ball, the speed of the ball and importantly whether the offender's arms are in a natural or unnatural position.

So the question of intent is now, did the offender deliberately place his arms in an unnatural position to increase the chances of the ball hitting him?

If the answer to that is yes then it is correct to penalise that player even though it used to be argued that was ball to hand.

So, with three controversial handball decisions this weekend:

  • Craig Gardner (Sunderland)- penalty correctly given - his arm was in an unnatural position against West Brom
  • Gareth McAuley (West Brom)- correct decision not to award penalty - his arm was in a natural position
  • Danny Fox (Southampton) - penalty incorrectly given - his challenge was clumsy but his arm was not in an 'unnatural' position

fox 3Protesting his innocence: Craig Gardner defends himself after conceding a penalty against West Brom on Saturday

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