Premier League watchers, regardless of club loyalties, were in collective meltdown over the weekend because of two controversial handball incidents involving Crystal Palace’s Joel Ward and Tottenham’s Eric Dier.
The first saw a penalty awarded to Everton after an attempted headed pass by Lucas Digne was accidentally blocked by the left arm of Palace defender Ward.
The following day Dier was penalised in the box after Andy Carroll headed the ball against the Spurs player’s arm from point-blank range. Dier also had his back towards the Newcastle striker.
Both penalties were converted, costing Crystal Palace a draw and Tottenham a win.
What is the new handball law?
Ahead of the 2020/21 Premier League season, the International Football Association Board tightened up the handball rule to essentially take the question of intent out of the equation.
A handball will be given against a player who:
- Deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, including moving the hand/arm towards the ball
- Scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental
- Touches the ball with their hand/arm when the hand/arm has made their body unnaturally bigger
- Touches the ball with their hand/arm and the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level (unless the player deliberately plays the ball with their head/foot/body and the ball then touches their hand/arm)
‘The above offences apply even if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from the head or body (including the foot) of another player who is close,’ the handball rule states.
The rule adds that a foul will not usually be given in the following scenarios, unless they are also one of the above situations:
- The ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/near
- The ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally bigger
- If a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground
In the case of Joel Ward, while there can be little question that he handled the ball accidentally, it can be argued that the position of his arm made his body ‘unnaturally’ bigger.
The penalty was given against Eric Dier because, even though he wasn’t looking at the ball and didn’t appear to be deliberately trying to block it with his arm, his arm was raised above his shoulder level.
However, a similar incident occurred minutes before – again involving Andy Carroll heading the ball against the back of a raised Eric Dier arm – which did not result in a penalty.
The old handball rule
Previously, only ‘deliberate’ handballs were punishable by referees, which meant the rule was more open to interpretation, and gave referees more flexibility.
The rule change is as likely to result in more penalties being awarded as it is to leave football fans red in the face. Expect to hear a lot more said about it in the coming weeks and months of the season.