During the waning moments of added time in a FA cup quarterfinal match
between Middlesbrough and Everton, the winning side had a corner kick. They
played it short, and the video angle showed the flag, ball, the shielding
attacking player and three men racing towards. One of the three was referee
Mark Halsey. As the two defenders arrived, Halsey blew his whistle and
awarded a free kick to the defense.
The attacking player gave a look of bewilderment, and then ran back to
defend. The referee held up a quick free quick to make the losing side
reset the ball in the exact, designated spot near the corner (using up a few
more seconds). The final whistle blew about 30 seconds later.
Now, it is possible that the camera's angle of view hid a foul by the
attacking player. Of course, the attacking player had no reason to commit a
foul; his objective was to continue to eat time by shielding the ball, hoping
for another corner. Moreover, the whistle seemed to blow before the defenders
were close enough to receive an arm or elbow. There did not appear to be an
extended arm for a simple holding foul.
It is likely that the whistle avoided a nasty foul (and the potential for
serious foul play) by the two defenders who knew they needed to get
possession of the ball and quickly pass it up field, and who might be
frustrated at the end of their hope for an FA Cup. In the common course of
such play, the player shielding the ball at the corner gets a swift kick from
Of course, a free kick for the attacking team would give rise to the same
opportunity for mischief when the defenders race another ten yards. A
dropped ball in the corner would be a clear indication that there this was an
"errant whistle" and could lead to loss of temper and enjoyment. With three
or more gathered in the corner, it is difficult to judge who committed the
first or any foul.
Of course, there was a foul, for that is what the referee awarded. But, was
this also a clever management tool to add to our bag of tricks? Or
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Confidential - March 10, 2009
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