Recently, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the attitude we have in football towards handball appeals. Other issues, like diving, get more airtime and instigate more debate, but the differing and ridiculous attitudes we have towards handball appeals is worthy of debate in its own right. Multiple close up replays about whether a ball hit an arm, or a junction of arm and shoulder, slowed down, forward, rewind, forward - pointless, pathetic, and besides the point.
It feels that every highlight package put together of a game tends to focus disproportionately on balls either shot or crossed straight at defenders and hitting them on the arm, often at the expense of much more discussion worthy incidents.
Last Saturday’s Sunderland versus Fulham game was an example of this. The entire focus of the game’s highlights was the penalty decisions given and not given - many of which focused on balls being blasted at players hands from short distances and infuriated strikers screaming at the referees while their managers fumed on the touchline.
Handball shouts perform an important role in the analysis of football, because they allow managers a chance to deflect attention from their teams’ performance at the end of games. They allow fans to pretend they were robbed because a cross that would have been cleared at the near post came off the arm of the full back and they didn’t get a free shot at goal for it.
This is not what the rules of football were codified to enforce. Broadly, they were to make sure that people couldn’t use their arms as instruments of playing the game.
It is decidedly unsatisfactory to see a game decided by a penalty given for a handball in the box, usually for something completely incidental. It doesn’t reflect the overall pattern of a game, or a period of pressure, or even reward good play, it tends just to be an utterly random, occurrence banal, and not reflective of the other 89 minutes of the game.
But this constant discussing of handballs is just something else altogether – often, some modern wingers will deliberately chip the ball in the air against their marker's hands at their sides as a "tactic" almost, as if it was a nutmeg, or the drop of a shoulder, or a shimmy.
Strangely, the one group of people who don't deserve criticism in all this, are the much maligned referees, who in my opinion, usually get it right and err on the side of not giving them, otherwise we would see far more handball-fishing than we already do.
The issue definitely needs to be cleared up, which means we need a better definition of what constitutes handball and what doesn’t.
Here’s my best attempt.
It is handball if:
* The player makes a movement towards the ball with his hands
* The player is trying to make himself big in the process of a block
* The ball would have gone in the back of the net without a touch from a players hand blocking a certain goal
* In the process of jumping for a crossed ball and going for a header, the ball hits a players hands at all
It is not handball if:
* The players hands are at his sides
* The players hands are covering either his face, or his privates.
* The ball is kicked at a players hands and he doesn’t have ample reaction time to remove them
* The ball hits a players hand after a ricochet (for example, hits another player on the shin and bounces up in the box)
* A player accidentally falls to the ground and his hand lands on the ball.