By Tony Attwood
I wrote the other day about the way in which the BBC frantically tried to prove that the referee was wrong in not giving Aston Villa a penalty for a ball that hit a raised arm in the penalty area.
Now the point of that piece was that the pundits were confusing the raised left arm (which certainly was raised to an “unnatural” position at one stage) with an incident a second later in which the ball actually hit the right arm near the joint with the shoulder. Two questions arose: is the joint of the shoulder part of the arm, and the arm was at the player’s side, so presumably not in an unnatural position.
However that little piece of mine raised a further issue that I must admit I had not considered – although it was one that Match of the Day pundits brought up. That a penalty cannot be given if the ball is hit from such a close range that the player cannot get out of the way in time.
Now the Match of the Day know-alls said, and all agreed, that eight yards was not close so that “too close” rule could not apply. But what they didn’t do was consider just how fast the ball can travel from the ground towards a players arm across eight yards. The just said “eight yards is not too close” and tried to turn it into a rule writ in stone. Yet as ever they gave no evidence.
Obviously what they should have done, and what would have made great entertainment, would have been having the ex-footballers they love to employ kicking the ball at each other standing eight yards away and seeing just how much time it took for the ball to get from the ground to the player’s arm. Then one would ask, “can a player react in time to move out of the way at a distance of eight yards?”
From the evidence supplied I doubt it.
Gord wrote in to tell us that the ball is probably travelling at upwards of 39 yards per second. That means that the ball will travel 8 yards faster than any player could react to get his arm out of the way.
Now obviously I was watching “Match of the Day” and not “Math of the Day” (ho ho) – for the pundits on this, as with all other football shows in the UK – rejoice in their inability to do basic maths. If you are a long term reader you may recall that when BT Sprout became involved with the Emirates Cup it had its pundits making fun of the fact that in the Cup the teams get three points for a win, one for a draw and one for a goal.
Live in the studio they all proclaimed that they could not do the resultant maths, and started making fun of the Emirates Cup. Untold along with other Arsenal sites made a fuss, and the following day the Sprout reigned in its commentators who suddenly found that they could do the maths after all (although probably prompted down their earpieces).
But in such a situation, it is hard to imagine football presenters being able to calculate the speed of a ball over a distance. And yet here we had the Match of the Day threesome all proclaiming that eight yards was not “close”, so the excuse of closeness could not be used to excuse a handball (although as I have said there was no handball anyway).
But in fact what we need to know – and what I hope someone will help me sort out – is how far away does a player have to be, to be able to react in time to get an arm out of the way of a ball hit with power straight at the player’s arm.
We know that the penalty spot is 12 yards from the goal, and that all a keeper can do is guess which way the ball is going to travel; keepers don’t dive once they have seen the ball in flight. So I suspect 12 yards is also not enough distance for a player to be able to get his arms out of the way.
Of course players can help themselves when defending by keeping their arms down – and indeed that is what happened in the case we looked at – it was the BBC who made the mistake of confusing a left arm raised with a ball hitting the right arm a few seconds later.
But if we knew that a player could simply not get his arm out of the way in time to avoid a shot hit with force from a certain distance, that would help. Players would still have an obligation to keep their arms down rather than waived akimbo, and indeed we see many defenders stick their hands behind their backs while defending in the box, but this could be another helpful piece of information.
If anyone can tell me how far away from a ball hit with power a player has to be to have time to move his arm out of the way as the ball approaches, I could publish that, along with a guide to the meaning of left and right (for the benefit of BBC pundits).
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