Wembley's ghost goal

At 5-1 does it really Mata?

April 16, 2012
By Dave Roberts

Yes, is the answer, and for once I'm on the side of a Premier League manager panning the man-in-the-middle. The Juan Mata 'goal' was a very bad piece of officiating by a man tipped to soon take over the mantle of England's best referee - Martin Atkinson.

Tottenham block Juan Mata's shot on the line but the goal is given
PA PhotosTottenham block Juan Mata's shot on the line but the goal was given by a referee who cannot have been sure.

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I've had my own run in with my fellow Yorkshireman but I've never allowed that to taint my view of his performances. He is a competent and experienced official and deserves to be in England's top flight - however he wasn't sure whether the ball crossed the line or not and gambled and he lost that gamble.

I've watched the incident via several different broadcasters' eyes, and yes I have seen the Getty Images photo which adds fuel to the 'ball crossed the line' fire - but it didn't. Almost all commentators claim Atkinson had the 'perfect view' to judge the incident, but that is nonsense.

His angle provided a perfect view of the ball in amongst the cluster of players, but not to view whether the ball was over the line or not. Two things went against him:

1) His biggest tool for this was removed the moment 5 players crashed to the floor on the goal line - his assistant referee.

2) The ball was off the ground at the critical moment.

The ball crossing the goal line is almost always the assistant referee's call. However, the jumble of bodies robbed Mick McDonough his usually unobstructed view so 'goal/no goal' responsibility fell directly onto Atkinson's shoulders.

And here's the problem, the combination of the Atkinson's angle of view and the ball being a foot or so off the ground at the key moment gave the impression that the ball is slightly further back than it was actually located - physicists call it parallax or something. The non-technical result was that not ALL of the ball had crossed ALL of the goal line, like page 32 will describe in the Laws of the Game as the method of scoring.

Watch Atkinson's body language, he waits, delaying his decision by a second or two, all the time replaying the incident over in his mind as we are instructed to do - freezing the critical moment in our mind's eye like the shutter on my Kodak instamatic. All this and he was still unsure.

Realising that there was to be no call from McDonough on this occasion Atkinson weighed up the data available to him - the parallax riddled imaginary photo, Mata chancing his arm by wheeling away in an Oscar winning celebration - the referee caught stooping to his left to peer into the white and blue abyss. The wrong call came and referees around the world could tell he still wasn't sure.

How do we know? Goal/No goal decisions MUST be sold, and sold well. Referees are coached to hit the whistle hard, to be mega-convincing so to leave no-one in any doubt that we've spotted it, to tell the universe that we're 100% certain it was a goal. There was no such forceful whistle from Atkinson, no Oscar-winning blast of conviction to seal the deal. He thought it was a goal, awarded it but was not sure about what he'd done, his body language sold that one.

Yes, there was that one photo which was the only evidence that maybe, just maybe the ball could have been over the line - but in FA Cup semi finals, like professional competitions around the world, maybes and could haves are not good enough. Spurs were now 2-0 down with a mountain to climb and Harry had every right to gripe.

• Dave Roberts is Head of News for ESPN Star Sports and is also a professional game referee having refereed at international level.