Last week there were a few divisive decisions that went against the teams I was supporting in rugby and cricket. So for this article, I decided to write about three controversial refereeing decisions that went in favour of my team. One each from rugby, cricket and football. I try and analyse as impartially as possible how those decisions affected the game and how furious I’d be if I were on the other side of them.
New Zealand v Lions, 3rd Test, 2017
In the 79th minute of the deciding Test between the Lions and New Zealand, the scores were level at 15-15. After a kick-off, the ball bounces off Lions player, Liam Williams, and is caught by teammate Ken Owens in front of him. The referee awards a penalty to New Zealand for offside which would have given them an easy opportunity to take 3 points and win the match and series.
A few things to note about this decision:
Firstly, if the referee had played advantage, Anton Lienert-Brown might well have scored for New Zealand anyway.
Secondly, Kieran Reid is clearly in front of Beauden Barrett when he kicks the ball, which isn’t checked or ever really acknowledged, and should result in a scrum to the Lions.
Thirdly, the reaction of Owens and his fellow Lions as the play unfolds is a pretty clear indication that they knew it was a potential penalty offence.
What really gives this one high sizzle factor on the controversy scale is the conversation between referee Romain Poite, the assistant referees and the television match official (TMO). They go to the TMO to check if there is any illegal contact in the air. After looking at the footage Poite appears to be about to confirm his original decision. You then hear him say “Oui, Jérôme,” to fellow Frenchman and assistant referee, Jérôme Garcès.
We don’t hear the conversation, but after a pause, the referee has changed his decision. The next thing Poite says to the two captains is, in an unfortunate turn of phrase from the Frenchman, “We have a deal about the offside,” before overturning his decision.
Poite changes his decision from intentional offside (and therefore a kickable penalty for the All Blacks to win the match and series) to accidental offside. A scrum is awarded and the game finishes as a draw.
I think either decision could have been correct. What makes this so controversial is the uncertainty with which it’s handled. I definitely felt like I’d dodged a bullet as a Lions fan and that’s probably an indication of what the correct decision should have been.
Controversy verdict: This one scores really highly because it was the decisive call in a 3-match series. Oddly though, despite going in favour of the Lions, both teams felt flat afterwards because the series finished as a draw.
Stuart Broad not walking v Australia, 1st Ashes Test, Trent Bridge, 2013.
Because Stuart Broad has since transcended cricket by simultaneously becoming a parody of himself and also a better bowler than he’s ever been, this cricketing controversy is often dismissed as typical Broad shenanigans. In fact, this incident had a massive impact on the outcome of the match.
Stuart Broad edges the ball, it clips wicketkeeper Brad Haddin’s gloves and pops straight into Australian captain Michael Clarke’s hands at slip. Regulation edge, back to the pavilion. But umpire Aleem Dar remains unmoved and consequently so does Broad.
The only mitigation I can see for the umpire is that he thinks the ball clipping Haddin’s gloves is what sends the ball to slip. But it’s a pretty routine decision for a Test-level umpire.
The incident came with England on 297-6. Broad, on 37 at the time, added a further 28 runs to his score before being dismissed. Which, in a game that England only won by 14 runs, is pretty consequential.
The Decision Review System (DRS) that was introduced in 2008 was designed to help overturn clear and obvious errors such as this one. Unfortunately for Clarke, he’d burned through his two reviews earlier in the innings on spurious lbw appeals. So in many ways, he only had himself to blame.
The decision not to walk (i.e. Broad admit he hit it and walk off the field, effectively giving himself out) was taken as an attack by Broad against all of Australia. But Broad is under no obligation to walk. Most batsmen don’t, and Broad ended up being the victim of Dar’s mistake.
Controversy verdict: Often viewed merely as a funny side story in Broad’s career, this one would have definitely had me spewing as an Aussie, especially seeing as the match ended up being so tight. At the heart of it all though, this was an unquestionable officiating howler.
Luis Garcia Ghost Goal v Chelsea, Champions League Semi-Final Second Leg, 2005
The final example of a controversial refereeing decision going in favour of the team I support is the 2005 Champions League semi-final second leg between Liverpool and Chelsea. The first game had ended 0-0 so everything was still to play for.
The controversy came in just the fourth minute. Steven Gerrard flicked a ball through to Milan Baros, who was clattered to the floor by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. While Baros appealed for a penalty, Luis Garcia nudged the ball goalward.
Chelsea defender William Gallas cleared the ball, but not before it was adjudged to have crossed the line by the referee and his assistant, who awarded a goal.
This was in the days pre-VAR and pre-goal-line technology, so there was no way of checking if the correct decision had been made.
What became known as the Ghost Goal proved to be the only goal in the game, meaning Liverpool advanced to the Champions League final, where they defeated AC Milan after famously coming back from 3-0 down.
Then-Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, was adamant the ball had not crossed the line, even reiterating this point a decade later in an interview with BT Sport.
But although the goal was awarded, perhaps Liverpool would rather it wasn’t? If there was no goal, then the referee should have awarded a penalty and sent off Cech. This would have left Chelsea playing with 10-men for 86 minutes and likely to be 1-0 down as well if the penalty was successfully converted.
Chelsea still had their chances to score, and an Eidur Gudjohnsen chance deep into stoppage time would have put Chelsea through on away goals. But ultimately it was the Ghost Goal that proved the difference between the sides.
This one is interesting because after watching it back lots of times, I still can’t tell for sure whether the ball did or did not go in. Maybe that means a ref shouldn’t award it, but then he should give the penalty and red card instead.
Chelsea may have gotten the better of the two options by conceding a goal rather than potentially conceding a goal and losing a man. However, the effect of a contentious goal like this would have been galvanising for Liverpool and demoralising for Chelsea. Potentially this is the greatest impact of the Ghost Goal on the tie.
Controversy verdict: More speculative controversy than tangible impact. Chelsea had 86 minutes to respond, plus the decision could (and maybe should) have been even worse for them.
How do you remember these sporting decisions? If you were supporting the other team, how did you feel about them? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!