Does contact constitute a penalty?

The recent match between tottenham and Liverpool illuminated an alarming facet of the modern game.

The game ended in a 2-2 draw, but only thanks to some erroneous decision making that was then judged by the majority of authority figures to in fact, be on the correct path.

The game swivelled on two late penalties – both for tottenham – and on close inspection, with the aid of slo-mo technology and a myriad of angles, we can surely all see that both spot-kicks were incorrectly given.

Since when does contact constitute a penalty?

We can forgive the referee, Jon Moss, for giving them. In the speed of the game, some things take on entirely different views and mistakes are commonplace. If VAR was in place though, then neither would’ve been given, right?

Jon Moss was in conversation with his fourth official for the final penalty – when Virgil Van Dijk ‘collided’ with Erik Lamela – and after a lengthy discussion, he judged that the Dutchman had brought down the Argentine winger. Moss even asked the fourth official for the use of VAR – even though the technology wasn’t available for this game.

If Moss was so unsure that he needed the benefit of a TV replay, surely he shouldn’t have given it?

Jurgen Klopp raged after the game, the German coach was obviously convinced his side had bagged the points after Mohamed Salah had scored in extra time to put Liverpool 2-1 up.

Mark Clattenburg was asked in the days afterward regarding the awarding of both spot kicks and said that both were incorrectly awarded – but he was in the minority.

Harry Kane, when asked by BBC Sport about the award of the first penalty, when he went over Lorus Karius’s dive, said “I felt contact so I went down. I’m not going to jump out of the way because it’s football.”

Dejan Lovren was incensed about the penalty, and Van Dijk was quite candid, saying that Kane dived.

The second penalty, Jurgen Klopp said of Lamela;

“The softest touch in the whole game decided the game. Lamela was already on the way down.”

The PGMOL, Jermaine Jenas, former referee Dermot Gallagher and a host of other supposedly respected voices in the game all branded the penalties correct.

What does the actual law state for a penalty though?

‘If a player commits a direct free-kick offence in the penalty area, then a penalty is awarded.’

What constitutes a direct free-kick offence?

‘A direct free-kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following in a careless, reckless manner or using excessive force


jumps at

kicks or attempts to kick


strikes or attempts to strike

tackles or challenges

trips or attempts to trip.

Did either incident involve any of the above? Does any of the above mention that contact constitutes an automatic spot kick?


Raheem Sterling, Ashley Young, Delle Ali, Harry Kane, Ander Herrerra are all serial offenders, using a trailing leg or their forward impetus to sway the referees into a decision. Even our own players aren’t above simulating to earn an advantage – Welbeck vs AC Milan anyone?

Contact is going to be made in the game, and when a corner is swung in, players clamber over each other to gain leverage, yet no spot kicks are given. Harry Kane used Laurent Koscielny to climb and score the winner in the recent North London Derby, yet he wasn’t pulled up for this.

There are instances when players are unfairly penalised for not going down under a tackle, as the referee believes it isn’t a foul as the player hasn’t fallen to the ground like he’s been shot.

It is this that has led to players feeling justified in going to ground when they feel any form of contact. Why should their team lose out?

The game has changed, but it’s on dangerous footing. The current decision making is inconsistent and it can lead to massive errors.

Errors that can hardly have bigger ramifications with the financial rewards in the game.

VAR needs to be the impartial factor we all know it could be, but if match officials believe that contact constitutes a penalty, then what hope is there?

2 thoughts on “Does contact constitute a penalty?”

  1. Let me state first and foremost that the players you have listed – and others – are serial divers and as such should be punished as such. They know they’re cheating, they even look proud of gaining the decision when the spot kick is awarded. In addition Welbeck’s effort v. Milan was a dive beyond all reasonable doubt, it wasn’t even a very convincing effort – something else that he is not very good at.

    At this point let’s establish that ‘hand ball’ is not part of the discussion.

    This issue seems to fall into two categories:

    1. Certain players go looking for opportunities to trail the leg or collapse in a screaming heap. In many instances their actions are predictable, they even select the player that they are going to use as an offender. It would seem that it is now a factor of the game and a means of justification that “you have to go down to get a penalty” . that claim brings me to my second point.

    2. Referees will justifiably claim that they are charged with making decisions based on an observation of an incident that happens in actual time – no slo-mos to review just, maybe, the requested input from a line assistant. A difficult task in many instances – angle of view, possible obstruction to view and intent. All to be decided in a split second.

    This problem is not a new phenomenon, I clearly remember the standing joke that was around in late 60s early 70s when people use to say that Man. City had a star Chinese playing for them – Lee Pen One – as that was what seemed a weekly occurrence with Francis Lee scoring a penalty that had been secured by nefarious means.

    Over the years there have been many genuine claims turned down, justification for diving in the modern mind.

    By way of swaying towards the need for cheating I would ask the question – How many times have we heard the match commentator or pundit say – “if that incident had occurred outside the box the ref would have given a free kick for that”?

    So consistency becomes an issue. VAR may eradicate the refereeing errors but will it also be used to punish divers?

    Will referees be held to account for their consistency throughout a game and across all areas of the playing pitch?

    This matter could be extended to team management and club policy – is anything acceptable when it comes to delivering the desired result? It is one thing to be sanctimonious on camera, but what really happens behind closed doors? Are these situations and behaviours discussed and condoned at team talks in the lead up to a game?

    Seems a little far fetched to believe that coincidentally the same players seem to figure regularly in these discussions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair point, esp about how often we hear the commentators say that oft-used phrase. Had no idea that is was present back in the 60s, just shows that every day is a school day.


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