Bad days at the office
Complaining about referees has always been, and always will be, a big part of being a football fan.
Nowadays, debates over the pros and cons of VAR are all the rage, but looking back at some of these baffling decisions over the years might make you relieved that the technology exists nowadays.
Referee’s volley helps out cup strugglers
Brian Savill was suspended by the FA for seven weeks in 2001 after deciding to take matters into his own hands to help out struggling Wimpole in their 20-2 Great Bromley Cup defeat to Earls Colnes reserves.
"The ball came over from a corner, the Wimpole forward headed it and it came to me," Savill told BBC Radio Five Live. "I chested it down, or armed it down, and the ball bounced up and I just volleyed it into the net."
The referee said English football’s authorities lacked a sense of humour about the incident and resigned in protest.
No laughing matter for Gazza
Referee Dougie Smith became something of a laughing stock in 1995 when he failed to see the funny side of some japes from Rangers midfielder Paul Gascoigne.
The ref dropped his yellow card on the pitch, only for Gazza to pick it up and jokingly book the official. Smith was in no mood for a laugh, though, and showed the England international a yellow card for his attempt at humour.
Nigeria denied by blind-sighted referee
In something of a repeating theme, Nigeria were denied glory by a poor decision over whether the ball had crossed the line after hitting the crossbar.
Victor Ikpeba’s spot kick in the shoot-out of the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations final clearly went in, but referee Mourad Daami didn’t think so, and his poor decision cost the host nation the cup as Cameroon triumphed 4-3.
A litany of errors
Dundee United’s Paddy Connolly appeared to have sealed a hat-trick against Partick Thistle when he drilled a shot into the back of the net, where it hit the stanchion, came back onto the pitch and into the arms of a Thistle defender – who handed it over to his goalkeeper.
Astonishingly, referee Les Mottram not only failed to award the obvious goal, but didn’t even give a penalty for handball. Thankfully for United it didn’t make too much difference, as they ran out 4-0 winners.
Uruguay lay down the law
In the very first World Cup, host nation Uruguay were given a helping hand in their semi-final clash against Yugoslavia.
With the score level at 1-1, the ball looked to have gone out of play, only for a policeman at the side of the pitch to knock it back onto the field discreetly, allowing Peregrino Anselmo to race forward and put Uruguay back in front.
Yugoslavia later had an equaliser disallowed for a debatable offside decision, but Uruguay ran out 6-1 winners in the end.
Hurst tows the line
It’s one of the great debates of England’s 1966 World Cup success – did Geoff Hurst’s strike in the final cross the line?
The Germans certainly don’t think so, with TV replays also hinting that his shot cannoned back off the crossbar and failed to completely enter the goal. It was given though – and the rest is history.
Stanchion saves Coventry
Crystal Palace’s Clive Allen couldn’t believe his eyes when his thunderbolt of a strike smashed into the top corner, hit the stanchion holding the net up and rebounded back onto the pitch.
The referee waved play on, perhaps confused by the speed of the shot, and Palace went on to lose 1-0 to Coventry.
Thatcher somehow avoids red
Manchester City’s Ben Thatcher smashed Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes in the face with his elbow during their 2006 Premier League meeting in a brutal challenge.
The Portuguese was knocked out and needed oxygen, but somehow Thatcher escaped with a yellow card. The FA later later righted the wrong by banning him for eight matches.
Reading’s ‘ghost goal’
Watford were left fuming by the ‘ghost goal’ awarded to Reading, as Stuart Atwell confused almost everyone by pointing to the centre circle for no apparent reason.
His linesman said he had seen the ball cross the line, but it wasn’t even close, a fact perhaps best demonstrated by the lack of appeals from any Reading players.
Marriner gets his wires crossed
With Chelsea already leading 2-0 against Arsenal, things got worse for the Gunners when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saved a shot with his hand to concede a penalty.
Referee Andre Marriner brandished a red card – but astonishingly showed it to Kieran Gibbs instead, despite the Ox admitting his guilt. Marriner later apologised for the mistaken identity, after Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of the north London club ended in a 6-0 drubbing.
Lampard’s luck runs out
England were sure they had pulled a goal back in their 2010 World Cup meeting with Germany when Frank Lampard’s piledriver came down off the bar and over the line before bouncing out.
It was ruled out by the linesman, who judged it not to have gone over the line, but replays showed clear space between the line and the ball.
Brazil celebrations cut short
Referee Clive Thomas made himself an unpopular figure in Brazil when he awarded the Selecao a last-minute corner against Sweden in the 1978 World Cup, only to blow the full-time whistle as soon as they took it.
Brazil scored from the delivery and were left furious as the Welshman waved away their protests.
Which sport are we playing?
Sometimes refereeing decisions are just downright astonishing, and this was one of those moments.
Brazil goalkeeper Carlos hauled down France’s Bruno Bellone with a bona fide rugby tackle as he hared clean through on goal, but referee Ioan Igna somehow called for play on and didn’t even whistle for a foul.
Bayern’s phantom goal dooms Nuremberg
In the Bundesliga, Thomas Helmer of Bayern Munich tried to outfox Nuremberg goalkeeper Andy Kopke with a close-range backheel, only to send it wide.
However, the Bavarian giants were somehow awarded a goal courtesy of linesman Jorg Jablonski and it had serious knock-on effects. Nuremberg lost 2-1 rather than picking up a precious point, and were eventually relegated on goal difference – with the phantom goal costing them a place in the top flight.
'Maggot' ruins Leicester’s cup hopes
Chelsea’s 1997 FA Cup fifth round replay against Leicester looked destined for penalties after two ties had failed to separate the teams, until referee Mike Reed awarded the Blues a very controversial spot kick.
Erland Johnsen went down very easily under a challenge that wasn’t there, leaving the nation enraged as Danny Baker raved on BBC Radio Five Live: "It was scandalous, an absolute scandal … football has a maggot at its golden core, and that maggot is referees.”
The ‘Hand of God’
Diego Maradona’s infamous handball for Argentina, which knocked England out of the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, is perhaps the most famous (or infamous) refereeing gaffe of all time.
Tunisian official Ali Bin Nasser later blamed a haemorrhoid treatment for affecting his sight and causing him to miss it.
We don't drink Fanta
Wolf-Dieter Ahlenfelder was only three games into his refereeing career in the Bundesliga when he made a decision that has gone down in history as one of the most baffling ever.
During a meeting between Werder Bremen and Hannover in 1975, he blew the whistle for half time after just 32 minutes of action. The linesman intervened, but he still made it only as far as 43 minutes 30 seconds before deciding to head in for a breather.
Why? Well, he later admitted to getting smashed on beer and schnapps before the game, saying: "We are men, we don't drink Fanta." Fair enough.
Carroll’s blushes spared
Tottenham midfielder Pedro Mendes thought he had scored a sensational stoppage-time winner against Manchester United in 2005, as Roy Carroll fumbled a long-range lob into his own net.
The goalkeeper desperately scrambled the ball back into play after it had crossed the line, but official Rob Lewis didn't see it and the ref waved play on. "There was nothing I could have done differently apart from run faster than Linford Christie," Lewis said in defence. Hmm.
Graham Poll’s Merseyside mix-up
Poll made himself an unpopular man among Everton fans in 2000 when he made a terrible call to deny the Toffees what would’ve been a memorable victory over Merseyside rivals Liverpool.
With the score 0-0 in the dying moments, Reds goalkeeper Sander Westerveld booted a free-kick into Don Hutchison’s back, and the ball trickled into the net... but Poll said he'd already blown the full-time whistle, despite some injury time remaining on the clock.
Byron Moreno enrages Italy
Ecuadorian whistler Moreno became public enemy No.1 in Italy after a series of terrible decisions saw them knocked out of the 2002 World Cup by joint-hosts South Korea.
He awarded South Korea a soft penalty, showed Hwang Sun-hong yellow for a challenge that he later admitted deserved a red, overlooked an elbow in the face of Alessandro Del Piero inside the box and a boot on Paolo Maldini’s head, sent off Francesco Totti for diving when he should’ve had a penalty, and ruled out Damiano Tommasi’s would-be golden goal in extra time for offside.
Nani’s cheeky tap-in
This is an odd one. In a meeting between Manchester United and Tottenham in 2010, Nani went down under a challenge in the box and caught the ball as he claimed a penalty.
It wasn’t given by referee Mark Clattenburg but crucially, neither was a free-kick for the handling offence. Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes thought he had a free-kick and as he prepared to take it, Nani cheekily sprang to his feet and tapped the ball into an empty net. Cue chaos.
Referee scores late winner in Turkey
Most of these examples feature decision-making errors, but here the referee had a far more direct impact on the outcome of a goal – he actually scored one.
In September 1986, defending Turkish champions Besiktas were being held 0-0 at Ankaragucu until ref Ahmet Akcay deflected a wayward shot into the net off his face, which he allowed to stand, giving the hosts a surprise victory. It wasn’t insignificant either, as Besiktas finished the season one point behind champions Galatasaray…
Spain stunned in South Korea
South Korea were again at the centre of refereeing controversy when Spain were left bemused by calls made by Gamal Al-Ghandour, who ruled out two Spanish goals in regulation time.
Ball boy hits the target
Santacruzense snatched a 1-1 draw against Atletico Sorocaba thanks to a last-minute equaliser…from a ball boy.
Images showed that the cheeky lad tapped the ball into the net after collecting a wayward shot and the referee allowed it to stand, despite nearly 10 seconds passing between the shot going wide and the boy knocking it over the line. The referee, unsurprisingly, was suspended by authorities.
Chelsea’s Champions League rage
Norwegian official Tom Henning Ovrebo denied Chelsea a place in the Champions League final in 2009 after ignoring four separate penalty appeals against Barcelona in the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
It can’t have been much solace to Blues fans, but he did at least admit he was in the wrong a decade later. "It was not my best day really,” he told Marca. “Some days you are not at the level you should be. I can't be proud of that performance.”
Schumacher gets away with one
It was arguably the most blatant red card a World Cup has ever seen and yet, somehow, Germany goalkeeper Harold Schumacher was allowed to remain on the pitch in the 1982 semi-final.
France’s Patrick Battiston was left knocked unconscious with two missing teeth, three cracked ribs and damaged vertebrae from the goalie's reckless 'tackle', yet the referee waved play on and no foul was given.
Collina denies Dunc
Pierluigi Collina is perhaps the most famous and respected referee ever to set foot on a pitch, but the Italian wasn’t a popular figure with Everton fans after denying them a place in the Champions League during their play-off against Villarreal in 2005.
David Moyes’ side were 3-2 behind on aggregate in Spain when Duncan Ferguson headed home a leveller, only for Collina to rule it out for no apparent reason.
He later claimed he had seen a foul by Marcus Bent, despite the striker seemingly having his shirt pulled at the time.