"Nicolas Anelka hares into the penalty area, and the Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard comes out to close him down. They have a momentary standoff, when only a few yards apart, before Anelka pushes the ball to one side of the American. And then – absurdly – he doesn't run in that direction, towards the ball, at all. Instead he charges straight at Howard, who is nowhere near the ball and never has been, clatters into him, and wins a penalty.
Clearly if Anelka had run towards the ball and Howard had blocked his path, it would have been a clear foul. But that was not what happened. Indeed, the only way that Howard could have avoided making contact with Anelka when the fleet-footed Frenchman sprinted right into him would have been by spontaneously ceasing to exist, or potentially by transforming into a mole and digging quickly. Clearly this is what the referee, Lee Probert, was looking for in this instance.
It is a frequent annoyance that a player running with the ball need only knock it past his opponent and then run into him to win a free-kick. Players shouldn't deliberately obstruct an opponent, but nor can they be expected to evaporate at their rival's convenience. It is what could be called football's Platform Nine and Three-Quarters Law. For anyone mercifully unfamiliar with the Harry Potter novels, our wizardly hero discovers there is a wall in London's Kings Cross station which, if you run at it fast and with absolute conviction, turns out not to exist and you speed straight through it with a pleasant whooshing sound. Footballers, however, continue to exist no matter what speed you're going when you run into them, and shouldn't necessarily be punished for it.
Another thing that infuriates me, now I'm on a roll, is the law that states any offence committed on a player who has just missed a goalscoring opportunity is not actually a foul. So if a keeper rushes out of his goal to put a striker off and, before the ball arrives, clatters right into him, it's a penalty. If the clattering occurs just after the ball has flown over the striker's head, perhaps while a full-back is clearing it merrily upfield, it is ignored. The Chelsea match provided a perfect example of this when a second-half low cross skidded across the six-yard box and just out of Ashley Cole's reach at the far post. A fraction of a second later, with the ball still in play, Seamus Coleman arrived from behind and totally took Cole out. Absolute, cast-iron, nailed-on penalty any day of the week.
And thus, with two penalty decisions in the space of a single game, was the swings-and-roundabouts argument of football fortunes proven once again "