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Monday, January 28, 2008
ESPNsoccernet: February 4, 6:24 PM UK
Balloon or Buffoon?

Dave Roberts

Far be it from me to party poop on Bryan Robson's big day, after all I've had the delight of Robbo's company on many occasions, even refereeing him when he was at Middlesbrough. However, it has to be pointed out that an un-noticed and critical gaff by ref Alan Wiley in the FA Cup may just have Super-cool Sven boiling with rage.

Yes, we all giggled at the irony of Man City fans own balloons costing them a goal in the FA Cup clash at Bramall Lane. Poor Michael Ball, the ex-Rangers defender didn't know which white orb to punt to safety. In the end his attempted clearance was more akin to one of my golf air-shots, not that Luton Shelton gave a damn.

The affable Swede was magnanimous in defeat saying, 'We should not blame the balloons as we should have done better', but what the former England boss and the rest of the non-refereeing football fraternity don't realise, under FIFA's Laws of the Game, the goal should never have stood.

Let me make it clear, as a neutral I fully enjoyed Sheffield United's giant-killing act as I called the game on ESPN, but at the risk of being considered officious: rules are rules! The big blue book clearly states that if the ball touches an 'outside agent' while in play, the referee must immediately stop play and re-start the game with a dropped ball where the contact was made.

Tough luck if the FA Cup Final last minute winner strikes a dog on the goal line on its way to the back of the net, the ref has to disallow the goal and award a dropped ball on the edge of the 6 yard box, though I'd not like to have to call that one.

FIFA qualify an 'outside agent' in the 2007/08 Laws of the Game publication as, 'Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official.' Match officials, corner flags and goal posts are also thrown into the list of exclusions, but no mention of balloons.

Poor Alan Wiley, a great referee in my eyes, but a man hit by one of those horrible situations which rarely happen. We've all seen balloons on the field but it is not that often we get to see them deflect balls for a goal.

Poor Sven, Manchester City were asking the officials to stop the game to clear the celebratory debris, 'We asked the fourth official to tell the referee to stop the game and take away the balloons or kill them,' said Eriksson. 'But the referee told our goalkeeper, Joe Hart, to do it during the game which is not fair. You can't ask a player to clear the pitch when the ball is live.'

Hindsight is wonderful, it would have been so safe for Wiley to whistle, have the balloon's cleared and then re-start. But the 47-year-old would probably have been given stick by the boisterous Blades fans, after all they were City balloons in the City goalmouth.

The question has to be asked: Why the lack of expert analysis? After all, the media has the responsibility of educating viewers, readers and listeners, hasn't it? Not really, why would you want so called 'experts' knowing what they are talking about. It just wouldn't be allowed?

Unfortunately the biggest culprits tend to be the biggest names in the football media game, every country I have lived in, worked in or just visited sit well paid ex-pros or famous media men talking or writing the absolute opposite of fact, and ESPN isn't immune.

I take great pride in knowing the laws inside out, well almost. You have to as a referee, or at least if you want to progress. As harsh as it may sound, 99% of players, managers and media men are ignorant of the laws, you want proof?

How many time have you heard the phrase 'Professional Foul? It does not exist'; then there's the old wives' tale that 'If the ball is played backwards you can't be offside'. WRONG!

Okay, try this one: What does the ref give if a defender plays a DIRECT freekick back to his keeper, who slips and the ball goes into the goal? I'll give the answer at the bottom of the page. If you want more, just ask.

Wiley was unlucky, Sven and City too. On this occasion though it wasn't a wrong offside call or a missed tackle which the world could spot, that is why there is no major fall-out, but the error is every bit as critical as pointing to the spot when Cristiano Ronaldo takes a dive.

By the way, I'm so pleased to see he's not as keen to do that this year, well done Cristiano. See, you can be one of the world's best without the Broadway act.

I do not have a solution to this as, though as rare as a Middlesbrough cup win, the quirky events will always crop up and it would need a Bill Gates-programmed computer to have every answer on the tip of a whistle.

Media pundits hate the idea of having to sit a class to learn the laws of the game, players think it is an insult to suggest they should consider it. I know I've asked them and the reply is always the same, 'I'm a professional, I know the rules.' Well, they are laws, and you don't.

Answer to Question: Corner Kick!

Dave Roberts is an Anchor on ESPN Soccernet Press Pass, Sportscenter and Soccernet Sportscenter. He is also an international referee.

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