When we train new referees, we often tell them this about being an assistant referee: “if you’re doing your job as an assistant referee, you’ll miss most of the match”.
Among their several duties, the trailing assistant referee provides eyes behind the back of the referee, spotting off the ball nonsense that the referee may not see. As such, it is imperative that ARs not get caught “ball watching”.
FIFA Assistant Referee Peter Kirkup illustrates this brilliantly when he spots violent conduct on the pitch, behind the back of Referee Craig Pawson.
Just as coaches tell defenders, we tell new assistant referees: don’t get caught ball watching!
During a corner kick, the Assistant Referee calls for a penalty for a foul in front of goal
Relegation-threatened Norwich City were clinging to a 1-0 lead away at Arsenal in the 83rd minute. During a corner kick for Arsenal, a tussle in front of the Norwich goal saw Norwich forward Kei Kamara and Arsenal forward Oliver Giroud end up in a heap on the floor. Referee Mike Jones was content to let play continue, until he clearly got a buzz from the Assistant Referee, who immediately signaled for a penalty (using the unique-to-England mechanic of flag across chest).
At first, Referee Jones appears to be confused by the call. I’m guessing that he assumed there was an offside flag and so blew the whistle quickly. But as the decision became apparent, the Norwich City players – and especially the goalkeeper – approached the Assistant Referee, engaging in very verbal and obvious dissent. To his credit, Referee Jones cautioned the goalkeeper (which had little effect, it must be pointed out), but still looked as if he wasn’t quite sure what was happening.
There are a couple of different talking points to cover here.
First, is there a foul? My own opinion is that, had I seen what the Assistant Referee saw, I would feel compelled to communicate this to the referee. It is quite possible that Referee Jones was screened by Kamara himself and couldn’t see the egregious shirt pull executed by the Norwich forward-turned-defender.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the mechanics of how this situation unfolded for the referee crew. We can only speculate about what Jones’ pre-grame instructions were to his crew, but I think it would be safe to say that, given Jones’ reaction, it didn’t include having the Assistant Referee call for a penalty in this scenario.
What did the AR say to Jones over the radio? Couldn’t he have said “Mike, I have a serious shirt pull on yellow in front. Do you want it?” It doesn’t appear that this happened.
Given that Jones appeared to blow quickly after receiving the beep from the AR, one wonders if he would’ve done well to have a look first. I strongly suspect that Jones thinks the AR is flagging for offside.
Finally, given that the AR did call for the penalty, and Jones did blow the whistle, could he have done a better job in recovering and selling the call? Would it have been a better choice to jog over to the AR (Jones walked) and have a quick chat, so that both referee and AR were on the same page? There’s always the get out of the inadvertent whistle, and while that’s certainly ugly for a professional match, it might have been better sold.