After Alexis handball controversy PGMOL reveals hidden agenda and all football fans should be outraged

By Tim Todd

There was a fierce goal line scramble. Hull City keeper Jakupovic saved a shot by Alexis Sanchez from point blank range, but his save bounced up and off Sanchez and into the goal. In live action it looked like Sanchez headed the ball in. Referee Mark Clattenburg awarded the goal after a brief conversation with his assistant referee, who had a clear view of the action.

For fans at home in the USA, NBCSN showed replays of the action and it was 100% clear that Alexis Sanchez hadn’t headed but instead the ball had gone in off his hand. As soon as I saw the replay I knew there was going to be controversy but I was also confident that the goal should stand, after all, handball has to be intentional.

The Laws of the Game underwent a slight revision this summer, changing the language around whether a handball was a yellow card offence or not but the language of the main infraction, handball, remained unchanged.  The 2016/17 IAFB Handbook states:

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm. The following must be considered:

  • the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement
  • touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) is an infringement
  • hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) is an infringement

It was clear from all the replays that Alexis Sanchez did not deliberately handle the ball. The ball ricocheted off Jakupovic and on to Alexis’  hand. Alexis had no time to get his hand in or out of the way. From everything I knew about the Laws of the Game this was a legal goal.

The commentators on TV were split about the goal with some saying “the hand was in an unnatural position – that’s a handball for me” (see bullet point 3) and others saying (correctly) that it wasn’t a handball. TV viewers in the US were informed at that time that PGMOL, the official body of Premier League referees, had declared this was a good goal because it was clear that this wasn’t an intentional handball.

And then, after the match Hull City defender Andy Robertson told TV reporters “When we came out at half-time, the referee’s apologised to us and said there was handball so he’s obviously looked at it at half-time and seen he was in the wrong.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Referees are not allowed to look at video of the games at any time, much less half-time. This rule is in place to prevent referees from being tainted with the suspicion that they might do a “make-up” call to even out any mistakes they made in the first half.

Andy Robertson continued “[Referee Clattenburg] says he wasn’t 100 percent sure. Obviously we can argue then that he shouldn’t have given the goal if he wasn’t sure but I think he argued it the other way that if he wasn’t sure then he had to give the goal. That’s the explanation he gave us, obviously not many referees admit they’re wrong so it’s good but it doesn’t make it any better.”

This is reasonable, if the referee isn’t sure, he cannot wipe out a goal, just like he can’t award a goal unless he’s 100% sure, but it’s still not the correct call and it’s still problematic that the referee went to speak to players from Hull City at half time, that he said he was wrong (when he was right), and that no one here seems to understand the handball rule.

I need to interject here that in no way do I think Mark Clattenburg changed his refereeing after the half. In fact, to his great credit, he awarded Arsenal a penalty after Hull City’s Clucas handled the ball and gave him a red card for preventing a goal by Arsenal’s Perez. But the idea that he spoke to players at halftime and admitted fault is still something we cannot have referees doing.

After  the match, possibly bolstered by the referee’s half-time pep talk, Hull City’s manager Marco Silva demonstrated his own lack of knowledge about the handball rule saying: “Some of the decisions, the important decisions are not good for us today. About the game, Arsenal started well, started better than our team. But the story is that they scored with an illegal goal.”

The correct call is that the ball hit Sanchez’ hand and as a result was not handball. The Laws of the Game are unambiguous about this. There is no such thing as “hand in an unnatural position” and the distance of the hand to the ball is absolutely taken into consideration. This was not an illegal goal. This was a very legal goal.

PGMOL technical director, Howard Webb, agrees with this assessment and speaking to BT Sport after the match explained the rule exactly as I have here in this article.

“It certainly came off Alexis Sanchez’s arm,” said Webb. “And to be fair to Mark Clattenburg he’s gone over to the assistant to talk to him as well. I can only conclude that they came to the conclusion that it wasn’t deliberate.

“And when we see it back I don’t think anybody in the world who sees that sequence of play can say that Sanchez meant to handle that.”

“[It’s] Certainly not intentional. The law requires the handball to be an intentional act and it wasn’t. So as the law is written it was a correct decision by Clattenburg.”

This should be settled, but it isn’t. There are a number of well paid pundits still claiming this is a handball. And adding further confusion to the incident, I was watching the post-match analysis on TV when NBCSN’s Rebecca Lowe added this bizarre explanation of why Clattenburg apologized to Hull for the goal. I captured the audio on my phone and tweeted it as a video but the transcript is below.

Let’s go to the Emirates earlier, Alexis Sanchez’s first goal struck his hand before going into half. Robbie and Robbie at the time felt it was a fair goal because it was not a deliberate hand ball and the laws of the game back that up but referee Mark Clattenburg apologized at half time to the Hull City players saying ‘we should have disallowed it’ because apparently you’re not allowed to score a goal from your hand even if it’s not deliberate because it doesn’t sit well in the game. And that’s the quote that we were given from the head of the PGMOL (Mike Riley) who we have since called.

This is a bombshell revelation if true. First that the PGMOL knew Clattenburg spoke with Hull City at halftime and had no problem with this. Second that PGMOL knew that Clattenburg saw a replay of the incident and again had no problem with this. And finally, the thing that is most worrying, that PGMOL has hidden rules that contradict the laws of the game and which can be invoked when something doesn’t “sit well with the game.”

This last bit is exactly what’s wrong with Premier League officiating. Fans have long suspected that officials don’t follow the letter of the law but now we know that not only do they not follow the laws but they are told to actively contradict those laws when they feel like it violates some unwritten “feeling” about the sanctity of the game.

The Alexis Sanchez goal was a clearly legal goal. No apology was necessary but that Clattenburg felt he needed to make one and that PGMOL then revealed a hidden agenda to throw games when they don’t like the way that the laws of the game are being applied proves to me beyond a doubt that PGMOL are not fit to apply the laws of the game fairly in the Premier League.



  1. Clattenburg is an attention whore and I am sure he knew this would be further attention for him and his fairness etc. More mentions in the media which actually isn’t calling him out can’t hurt.

    Can’t help but notice how ostentatious his lecturing to the players is. Plays well on TV!

    waiting for his apology to Alexis.

  2. This post needs to go vital so that thickheaded idiots can read it and understand. Especially the pundits.

  3. Thank you Tim. I was so outraged by the reaction of pundits (Match of the Day) and David Hytner in the Observer asserting it was handball and somehow Hull had been cheated. The Sunday Times correctly pointed out the interpretation of the Laws of the Game and it cheered me slightly that not every journalist was so pigheaded. I still think the goal resulting from Alonso’s assault on Bellerin was more controversial. Ah well.

  4. I would love to see some of the “rules” or “statements” by the PGMOL tested in a courtroom.

    I can imaging the questioning now:

    “What evidence can you produce that a Xhaka like tackle would result in a red card was communicated consistently to all clubs and referees”

    “What evidence can you produce of action taken regarding referees who have failed to enforce this rule”

    “What evidence can you produce that the laws of the games can be ignored if they do not sit well with the game has been communicated to clubs and referees and what examples were provided to help clubs and referees interpret this rule”

    “What action has been taken against referees that have failed to support or interpret this new rule correctly”

    This is just a “make it up as you go along” set of situations where a referees has done something and the PGMOL feels it needs to support it whatever so as not to undermine the game.

    But ultimately it undermines the game at its deepest level, that you cannot always trust the guys who are supposed to ensure the game is conducted fairly.

  5. I support Hull City and agree that the goal should stand. There is one important element missing from what Webb said and that is if a player has his hands out to make himself big and the ball hits the hand deliberate or not it is handball. The only question Clattenburg could have is did Sanchez try to make himself big. The answer is no it looks like he was leaning back and his hand was out for balance. So Clattenburg by not seeing it got it right. There does appear to be a view amongst managers and pundits that you cannot score if the ball hits the hand Moyes also complained and Murphy showed he did not understand the rules. On the other hand Clattenburg really messed up with the Gibbs incident who should have received a red card no question.

    1. Agree 100% with everything you say. As an Arsenal fan, seeing the Gibbs incident I immediately knew he was going to be sent off for preventing a goal scoring opportunity. And then he wasn’t, and I still haven’t the faintest idea why not.

    2. This is the result of terrible football punditry – we now have a situation where people assess controversial incidents using phrases coined by pundits rather than referring to the laws of the game. The relevant law is included in the article above:

      ” – the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

      The question of “did Sanchez make himself big” falls under the hand to ball or ball to hand law. It’s not a helpful way of assessing these incidents, because defenders throwing themselves into last-ditch tackles necessarily make themselves big.

      If “making yourself big” is the criteria for referees then Clucas would have conceded a penalty earlier in the game for blocking Walcott’s(?) goal-bound shot with his hand. If that incident was regarded as unintentional due to “the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)” then Clattenburg was never going to disallow the Alexis goal.

      On the Gibbs incident, it was a heavy shoulder barge and he’d sprinted ahead of the Hull player so yellow was the correct call. As a counter-attacking team Arsenal have had a few incidents (it’s happened to Ozil a couple of times) where our forwards are brought down like that it’s usually a yellow.

        1. What are you, a Spurs fan?

          If refs aren’t going to penalise players who do it against us, I could care less whether Gibbs got away with it or not.

  6. Great example of beleiving what you want and making the facts fit. Alternative facts? He made a deliberate movement he slapped his hand down basically great if playing basketball but this is football. The ref has to make a subjective instant decision. If he saw it he had do actually believe for one minute he would have given ? More concerning why didn’t he send of Gibbs. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was not an accidental miss timed desperate tackle.He took out the player because he believed he was beaten and the Hull player was in on goal. Clearly there would have been a goal scoring opportunity if Gibbs had not felled him

    1. I’m making the facts fit what I want. Howard Webb is making the facts fit what he wants. Most people are making the facts fit what they want except you who clearly wants to call it a handball. Excellent use of irony!

  7. It very much was a handball. You mistake intentional for deliberate. The action which caused the hand and ball to contact has to be deliberate. In the end the ref has to make an instant subjective decision he has no way of knowing the intention.

    .Do you really believe he would have given it had he seen it. It was a great basketball shot

    1. Excuse any typos; typing one handed (the other is picking my jaw up off the floor). So intentional and deliberate are different things in football, are they? So if a player jumps to head the ball and it hits his arm (which is rooted to his side) then it is a handball, because the move to HEAD the ball was deliberate?

      Away with you already, gah.

      Also, have you ever watched basketball?

  8. It’s incredible to me that anybody who watches that replay could believe it was hand to ball.

    On Hull City. I have nothing against them, and in fact in recent years my feelings have ranged from indifference to pity. But my oh my did it take a while before the stench of Orange Phil wore off that club. He certainly did get up our noses, and sadly he stayed there long after he left the club. But it’s difficult to be enraged by Marco Silva.

    It’s a bit like Chelsea these days. Sure, there still remains a slight odor of Mourinho, but golly I like Conte, and that loss last weekend, coupled with the certainty of their title win, doesn’t smart like it used to.

  9. The statements by Howard Webb and Rebecca Lowe, assuming if both are true, show that Mike Riley is bent, which is something that many Arsenal fans have known/suspected for a while.

  10. Regarding the “it doesn’t sit well” part of the quote I suppose England are still bitter over the Diego Maradona hand of God goal. And there was a quote today on the American broadcast of the Chelsea game where a Hull player cleaned out a Chelsea player and the announcer blithely pointed that in any other league in the world that’s a foul but not here in England. PGMOL again taking it upon themselves to re-interpret the laws of the game.

  11. Think about this “it doesn’t sit well with the game” thing. First they admit it wasn’t deliberate handball, or in other words, “cheating”. But they say the goal shouldn’t be allowed because it doesn’t sit well, why doesn’t it sit well?

    Arsenal created a great chance to score a goal. Alexis’ shot was blocked but not blocked well enough and took an unfortunate bounce for the keeper. This happens all the time and keepers are punished. That sits perfectly well for me.

    What wouldn’t sit well for me is if Arsenal were punished because the FA decided to interpret the laws in a new and unique way. They are literally saying, “well, Arsenal created this golden opportunity, and didn’t violate any laws, but the goal shouldn’t be allowed to stand because we don’t like the way it looks.” That is a hugely problematic thing to inject into a football match.

    And one last thing. This is an FA and PGMOL for which it sat perfectly well for Alonso to fly in with his elbow raised, concuss a helpless Bellerin, and score a goal. That sat well. And here’s where this all becomes a problem, Arsenal fans should legitimately ask if that red card elbow “sat well” because the PGMOL and FA favor Chelsea and are they now saying this Alexis handball doesn’t sit well because they don’t like Arsenal?

    It sure looks like favoritism, at the very least.

    1. If I were you I would put all these arguments in a letter to the F365 mailbox, and see how that debate goes.

    2. Or: Alonso’s goal sat well because the English football media and fan culture likes the idea of big strapping “lads” outmuscling weaker ones to score a goal (especially from a cross; there is literally NOTHING that the English football culture loves more than a good cross), and what wouldn’t have sat well is disallowing such a goal, especially because it would have robbed them of the opportunity to reinforce the Arsenal are soft narrative. (To be clear, I’m not saying this is why Atkinson didn’t call it. I think it happened quickly and he didn’t see it. But it explains why no one in the media was willing to even entertain the thought that it MIGHT have been a foul.)

  12. the best league in the world. a new rule, If a ref makes a mistake (which wasn’t BTW) he has to apologise to the team he has screwed??? How many apologies will we have in the Arsenal dressing room? Traditionally the English game is a rough. Bellerin was judged a soft player yet the impact he got could have killed him on pitch. Career ending unpunished tackles are not enough to open eyes. Sooner or later a player will get a terrible head injury.
    Predictable patterns of refereeing are now part of team tactics for managers as they know what to expect from the ref when facing particular opposition

  13. Is there an anti – Arsenal bias from the refs? Quite posibly but good luck getting all football fans to get outraged over it.

    I agree the Sanchez goal was legal according to the rules but I’d be spitting feathers if a goal like that went in against us and cost us points.

    The tribal nature of football almost guarantees that refs will get away with any irregularities because for every outraged fan there will be a happy one and others simply won’t care.

    Was Silva interfering with Cech for the second City goal. Most Arsenal fans said yes, while most City fans said no.
    Planty of other examples to go around from practically every game of every round.
    This is football.

  14. Also, whatever has been said in the aftermath , the fact remains that the two most controversial handball goals scored thus far in the league have been scored by Arsenal and were allowed to stand , so where is the harm to Arsenal in that?

  15. I was at the game and I thought it was a clear handball, but I got it wrong. I thought Alexis tried to chip it over the keeper and accidentally hit his own hand. The replays revealed the truth.

    Appears the post match interviews reveal the deep truth that PGMOL is out of control.

    Untold says hello.

  16. PGMOL not fit to apply the rules of the game you say? Nooo wayyyy. Who’d a thunk it?

    It’s clear they make it up as they go along (new ‘rule’ on Xhaka red cards), make up statistics (99% decisions are correct), and for some reason or the other, they punish Arsenal more than any other big club at least. And the media are there not to analyse but to act as apologists for whatever they serve up, with extra glee when it’s against Arsenal. Again, why?

    The Bellerin incident. I can understand the referee missing it. (Though I don’t think he’d give it as a foul even if he saw it) What I can’t tolerate is the way the media refused to see the dangers of that sort of challenge. Forget it being a goal or Chelsea winning, that stuff affects players’ health and even life. And in the Hull match, Clattenburg was explaining Huddlestone the rule about not leading with the elbows after he hit Walcott in the head with one. Wtf is that? Arsenal have already had a period with multiple broken legs for its players. Now it seems you can elbow an Arsenal player with impunity because it reinforces their Arsenal are soft narrative.

    This is seriously getting out of hand, and if Riley stays in charge (even Hackett has been calling for his removal) I fear it will only get worse. And Arsenal fan or no, I am at the point of considering whether to stop watching English football entirely (only watch replays on Arsenal player) and switch to German/Spanish/Italian leagues where at least you know what rules the game is being played under. The last time I felt this way was when Gabriel got sent off by Mike Dean for Costa assaulting Kos and him. But at least the league admitted they got it wrong in that case. Now, they seem determined to make something legal into something wrong. With no justification at all except their arbitrary word.

    (PS. This is not just about this one game, where I think Gibbs was lucky to not get sent off. I don’t think Clattenburg was out to do us. But the ridiculousness of the PGMO and media narrative is starting to get overbearing.)

    1. Funny you should mention Hackett, who said Sanchez’s handball should’ve resulted in a free kick for Hull because his arm was moving.

      The guy on Squawka, who is a level 5 referee also thought it was a foul for Hull City but gave a different reasoning, claiming that the hand shouldn’t be allowed to be the only reason for the ball to go into the net, and in Alexis ‘ case if the ball doesn’t hit his hand it actually goes away from goal.

      The guys on TeamTalk also have it as a wrong decision but I’m not sure of their credentials.

      So let’s track this thing. Only Arsenal fans believe this was a correct call while mostly everyone else thinks the opposite. Does that mean only Arsenal fans know the rules?

      1. Not unless Howard Webb and the folks at NBC are also Arsenal fans.

        What’s your point? Most of the media also saw nothing wrong with Bellerin being elbowed in the head. Guess we should all just accept everything we’re told. To do anything else, like I don’t know, care about the rules as they are written, would be too extreme.

        1. My point is that football rules have never been an exact science and there will always be a split opinion between refs and others on most controversial calls.

          You thought Gibbs got lucky not to be sent off, which is a euphemism for wrong decision is it not.
          Clattenburg’s explanation was that the ball was going away from goal. Well, if it was , it was only because when Markovic tried to chest it down Gibbs clattered into him from behind. Again a different interpretation of the same play.
          Which brings us back to my original post.

          1. Yes. Wrong decision.

            The rules leave room for interpretation when they say in the opinion of the referee. That doesn’t mean the referee is infallible, simply that his opinion is to carry weight in those instances.

            The rules in the Alexis goal can only be interpreted to say no goal like Hackett apparently did. That he moved hand to ball. It has nothing to do with the reasoning given by the PGMOL.

            Even more confusing, Dermot Gallagher giving his verdict on the Alexis goal deems that it is a ‘moral dilemma’ but that Sanchez got away with something he wouldn’t have with a video ref. Why? Because it doesn’t sit well with anybody. So then why the moral dilemma?

            And yet, the same guy’s verdict on Gabbadiani’s goal for Southampton vs Sunderland is that it’s not handball, because “It’s struck him high on the body, but we have to sit down and say “this is this, this is acceptable, this is not acceptable.”

            Does any of that make any sense to you? Because it doesn’t to me. And that can’t be right.

        2. No it doesn’t, and I’m no fan of Riley or PGMO’s but to compare Alexis and Gabbiadini’s hand balls is like comparing apples and oranges.
          The feed I found on YouTube of Gabbaldini’s goal is a bit grainy but it looks like he’s being tugged by a defender and his hands are close to his body and the ball is whipped at pace into the general direction of the goal.

          Alexis is not interfered with and his arm is up and the ball is going away from the goal.
          Again, I agree with most on here it was a goal but not a similar play to Gabbaldini’s.

          1. But a goal can never be scored from a hand apparently!

            Look. All I’m saying is that there must be a clarity of rules and clarity of how they are interpreted. At the moment, there is none. Quite the opposite in fact. The PGMOL (and the media) make up rules as they go along (which too make no sense if the Gabbiadini goal should stand), and that has been quite clearly shown in this case.

            They are not fit for purpose and need a major overhaul if they are to function properly. But that isn’t going to happen.

      2. The rules aren’t some mysterious piece of esoteric knowledge that only the high priests of refereeing can access. They’re IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. Show me the place where it says an arm shouldn’t ever be the only reason the ball ends up in the net. If you can’t, then I guess that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. As for his arm moving, it’s only minuscule at best, and the rule isn’t if the hand moves at all it’s a definite penalty, rather that’s a guideline to help determine deliberateness. Anyone who can tell me with a straight face that it was deliberate from Alexis doesn’t know what the word ‘deliberate’ means. The fact that so many elite refs could interpret the rules this way just demonstrates that they have a shocking inability to perform elementary bits of reasoning.

  17. There’s been virtually no comment on the incident in minute 32 when Walcott’s goal bound shot is blocked by Clucas’s arm. Definitely arm to ball but difficult to be sure at normal speed.

  18. The narratives get mixed up very quickly here, it’s important to keep them straight. There are a few possible accusations against PGMOL and referees, in increasing order of seriousness:
    1. The job is too hard and referees need help
    2. The referees are sometimes individually incompetent
    3. The referees are sometimes individually biased
    4. The laws and PGMOL guidelines on how to interpret them are not well understood
    5. PGMOL in general is non-transparent and unaccountable
    6. PGMOL in general is non-transparent and unaccountable AND they have an agenda.

    Too often the chat about refereeing focuses on number 3 – if individual referees are biased. I would steer clear of these accusations, partly because it’s impossible to prove, partly because it removes the focus on the bigger, more systematic problems.

    That aside I was on board with everything up to 5, the quote from Mike Riley is clear evidence of 6.

    There has to be a wider movement to clear this kind of crap up – reaching out to supporters of other clubs would be a good start to see if they have similar views.

  19. There is an agenda against the Arsenal and especially Arsene Wenger. This and the Bellerin incident are prime examples of why it is easier for us to win the Champions League than to win the Premier League. The FA and the PGMOL will not allow it

  20. I understand that, from the rules as set out above, that the officials would have to conclude that the Sanchez goal should stand, but:
    1) the handball rule applies to ‘handball in general’, and not where the contact with the hand results in the ball, subsequently untouched by any other player, then crosses the line into the goal. Anywhere else on the pitch, fine, but, surely, a goal where the last touch was a hand can’t possibly “sit well” with anyone, can it? And

    2) positively identifying ‘intention’ is going to be a minefield for refs, especially within the two or three seconds they have to make their decisions. Their jobs are difficult enough; why heap extra pressure on them?

    In my opinion, the current rule just needs a tweak to ensure the last touch CANNOT be a hand, unless it belongs to the defending goalkeeper.

    1. I don’t see why it going in directly off a hand should be so scandalous: if the hand wasn’t used in a handball-y way (i.e. deliberately to gain an advantage) then it’s just a fluke. Flukes are by nature rare, so it’s not like we have to worry about this becoming a trend. It was really unlucky for Hull, but why shouldn’t that sit well? Here’s a comparison: it’s a fluke when a goalkeeper saves a penalty but the ball ricochets off the woodwork and hits the back of his head and bounces in (I have seen this before, more than once). It’s terribly unlucky for the keeper and his team, and I guess that bad luck feels a little “unfair”, but no cheating was involved. These things just happen, thankfully rarely. Alexis’s goal was like this. His arm really wasn’t used in any way that made it significantly different than if the ball had ricocheted off his foot into another part of his body (e.g. his chin) and into the net. It was just an appendage that happened to be there at the right place and time, that he couldn’t move fast enough, and that luckily led to a goal. End of story.

      But more to the point: the current laws don’t have the bit that you want added, so why are so many commentators acting like they do and pretending it was a handball?

  21. We have got over the Arsenal game, Wenger and his babies are just like whinging childs who are so
    rated UTT

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