The impact over the years of one wrong decision from the ref

By Walter Broeckx

People sometimes wonder if all the fuss about wrong referee decisions is that much needed. After all it is just about one decision in a game. Well one such a decision can make a lot of difference, not just in that particular game but also for the next decade.

I remembered this as someone in the comment section was speaking about great teams of the past he compared Arsenal with the Brazilian national team of the 1970 world cup and the Holland team of the 70ties.

And certainly the last mentioned team is rather a perfect example on how one wrong decisions made a massive difference. Let me take you back in time. Now I know this is not really Arsenal related but this is even better because it shows that I’m not biased about it.

So we step in our time machine and go back to the world cup qualifiers for the World cup in Germany in 1974. Holland was in a group with Norway and Iceland who were rather poor teams in those days and their fierce and local neighbours Belgium. Holland is a country with only two real neighbours and when playing Germany and Belgium the football crazy Dutch fans go even crazier.

A victory of Holland over Germany is for Holland like winning world war 12 or 13 or 14. Winning against Belgium is a little bit less important from an emotional point of view. In their history Holland has had the upper hand most of the times (is my gut feeling to be honest based on my own life experiences) so it is just natural for them to win from Belgium.

For any Belgium team to beat Holland is the best win possible. In Belgium we hardly dream of beating our other neighbours Germany or France. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is just something to be ignored and certainly in those days when another team didn’t win with more than 10 goals against a Luxembourg team was considered as a bad result.

In those days only the team that finished first would go to the world cup. Holland was by far the best team of the group. They trashed Norway and Iceland with mostly high scores. And Belgium also won their games against said teams be it with a rather modest score line.

The first meeting between Belgium and Holland was held in Antwerp in 1972 and ended in a 0-0 in the Hell of the North as the stadium was baptised for the derby between Belgium and Holland in those days.  Tony has seen with his own eyes what is left of this Hell of the North; it isn’t even a purgatory these days. Just ruins.

Because of the calendar the all important last game was Holland-Belgium. Played on 18/11/1973 in the Olympic stadium in Amsterdam. Nobody doubted Holland would win that final game. But before that final game they stood there with the same amount of points (9 – in those days only 2 points for a win) but the goal difference was largely in favour of Holland. They had scored 24 goals and Belgium only 12. But in the good old boring Belgium tradition Belgium had a strong defence and hadn’t let in a goal in the previous games.

Holland didn’t score in the final game and then a few minutes from time Belgium did score a goal. But the goal was disallowed for offside. The goal scorer wasn’t offside when the ball was played but a few other strikers were offside but not interfering. The assistant raised his flag and the ref cancelled the goal. You can see images of it on this little film

You can stop it on 1:12 and check it yourself.

Much and heated debate has been going on for a few years of course and even the Dutch later admitted that the goal should have stood. But the wrong decision had as a result that Holland went to the world cup in Germany and was playing the most exciting football I had ever seen. The names of players like Hulshoff, Schrijvers, Mansveld, Suurbier, Neeskens, Krol, Haan, Cruyff, Mühren, Rep, Rensenbrink, Van Hanegem became world famous.

Two lost world cup finals in succession was the result. And in Belgium some like to think that if the ref and the assistant had not made a mistake it could have been us over there. To be honest I really doubt the Belgium team could have done what Holland did. They had some exceptional players in that period and Belgium was just a good team based on a very very very solid defence playing a very boring type of football.

Belgium had to wait some 10 years before having another sniff of a possible success, Holland went on to conquer the world with their attractive total football. And all this because of one (1) wrong decision. And even though they lost both finals I think those days where the final break trough for having some very attractive football in those days and this still is a foundation for the generations since then.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from the achievements of Holland in those days. In fact I think it was to the benefit of football that this mistake was made. But the fact is that one mistake can change the history not just for that one game but for many years after that.

I have always been very much in favour of having instant justice on the field. Meaning that for such a case we should have the possibility to overrule a mistake made by the ref or his assistant. If we want sports to be fair we have to make sure that things are fair. Eliminating possible human errors as much as possible. Football is still a sport the last time I checked so we should work on making it fair. As fair as possible.

The facilities we have now are much better than the ones we had in those days. With all the different cameras around the fields we should be able to get rid of most of the wrong calls if the governing bodies would allow it.

But the way those football authorities hold on to the status quo doesn’t bring much hope to have a fair result in the very near future. We all will depend on the good eye of the ref or the assistant on the field. And hope that they are not biased and do a fair job.  But I sure would love to see the day that we go home in the knowledge that all has been done to have a fair result on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

19 Replies to “The impact over the years of one wrong decision from the ref”

  1. @Walter thanks for that piece. So who is going to give manure a hand this time around? Web or Riley? Madrid will be in town and thanks be to GOD its not cluj or braga i just loved the draws. Keep it up Broeckx

  2. What goes around comes around Walter, a few years after that Republic of Ireland were knocked out of a qualifying group by Belgium with the referee awarding a number of not only controversial but completely biased decisions to the Belgians and so denying Liam Brady the chance to play in a major international tournament.

  3. Matt,
    And if I remember right Belgium went to the EC and lost the final in Italy? 1980?

  4. Yes Walter and again for the 1982 World Cup Qualifying, Stapleton had a perfectly good goal disallowed in a 0-0 draw in Brussels. 2 tournaments in a row Ireland were done by dodgy reffing in Belgium so I dont have much sympathy for your article.

  5. Sorry, Belgium scored a late, late winner, Cuelemans I think. Ireland could have topped the group and Belgium gone out!

  6. Interesting draw -shame we finished second? Last 4 years – Barca twice, AC now Bayern – someone dont like us! If we do not stop them, Bayern could very easily win this, a very very tough draw

  7. “he goal scorer wasn’t offside when the ball was played but a few other strikers were offside but not interfering”

    Sorry if I’m wrong… but back in those days wasn’t that the rule?
    I always thought the offside rule was changed so players not intefering with play didn’t result in an offside but back then offside was offside – interference or not?

    Or have I completely got this wrong.

  8. Matt,
    Believe me I have no sympathy at all for the past of the Belgium football…
    Even in their biggest moments (Mexico 86 – Italy 80) I was more ashamed by the way they played than you can believe.
    To use the words of Jan Ceulemans (already mentioned in the comments) and one of the most down to earth football players I have known: ‘We were extremely lucky’ and that was all and I agreed with him amidst unbridled euphoria (I was hoping to see them fail which they did eventually)

  9. Another officiating controversy involiving Belgium is their famous 4-3 win over USSR in WC 86. Belgium scored 3 goals from the offside position while being completely dominated by the Soviet team. They proceeded to beat Spain in the quaterfinals only to be single-handedly undone by Maradona in the semis.

  10. Gooner Pete,
    with the current rules and the wait and see instruction this was a valid goal.
    At the time the rule was a bit different and it was more up to the individual assistant or ref to make a decision but they could raise the flag for a player being offside on the other side of the field when the ball was over here. But I wasn’t a ref in those days, just a young boy who had hardly heard of Arsenal (except enjoying Arsenal beating Anderlecht in the European cup final ) and don’t know how the rule was exactly at the time to be honest

  11. Andrei, just as Ceulemans who scored a goal in that game against Russia (memory?) said after the game amongst the euphoria and looking a bit out of place: “We were extremely lucky”

    Hell I could have written an article on how lucky Belgium has been since that one call going against them 😉

  12. Never mind Walter, although your Motherland is pretty ropey at football, my wife loves your chocolates and I like your sprouts.

  13. All of these arguments illustrate the utter stupidity of the offside rule. With the tightness of marking seen today, why not scrap the rule and end further controversy? The fans would see more goals – always a good thing – and any ‘subjectivity’ would be removed.

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