The situation has actually been made far worse by the VAR because you can understand a referee getting something wrong in normal time, but when the referee (with the aid of a 4th official upstairs AND a video replay STILL gets it wrong, you just have to wonder what the hell is going on in Australian football.

Last night, the Jets conceded a penalty for handball against the Wanderers. So, before I go on, let’s just have a quick peek at the actual laws of the game…

Handling the ball

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with

the ball with his hand or arm. The referee must take the following into


• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)

• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)

• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an


• touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.)

counts as an infringement

• hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) counts as an



Note in particular that there is no mention of:

  • gaining an advantage
  • arm in an unnatural position

Those expressions are commentators’ glosses that have crept into common parlance in an attempt to clarify the rules but instead they’ve muddied the waters. Let’s be very plain about this…


If the hand hitting the ball was not deliberate then the correct decision is play on – even if the ball goes directly from the hand into the goal (I’m looking at you Chris Payne).

And yet, despite this very simple rule we constantly get players, coaches, commentators and even referees with the benefit of VAR getting this wrong.

The penalty last night against Nikolai Topor-Stanley was an appallingly bad decision. Topor-Stanley’s arm was already in the air when the ball rebounded and hit him. He wouldn’t have even seen the ball until it had already hit him and there was no movement of the arm towards the ball.

"Oh, but his arm was in the air!" some will say. Doesn't matter. Footballers aren't river dancers. His arm had every right to be in the air when he was jumping and he couldn't possibly have moved it out of the way when the ball unexpectedly rebounded.

And before you try and howl me down, please refer back to the actual laws of the game…although why fans should do that when referees and commentators couldn’t be arsed is a fair enough question.

As I’ve said before, commentators not knowing the rule is, frankly, scandalous. Robbie Slater had several looks at the replay and said several times it was “clearly a penalty”. But it wasn’t Robbie. It was most definitely NOT a penalty. Then John Kosmina made it worse by saying he was old school and that it didn't matter whether hand ball was deliberate or not. 

I'm afraid it does matter John, it's the ONLY thing that matters, and when you think about it, there ought to be very few handball decisions because almost no-one ever really intends to handle the ball. When they do it tends to be pretty obvious – like Thierry Henry’s nasty little effort against Ireland.

I would also suggest that the third goal ruled out for a foul by Jason Hoffmann on Vedran Janjetovic was also wrong. It looked to me as though Hoffmann was obviously going for the ball, as he is entitled to do. Football is a contact sport so Hoffmann was allowed to make fair contact with the keeper, and the keeper’s responsibility was to hold the ball.

The goal was given, but then overruled by the VAR – who are only supposed to intervene in the most egregious of circumstances. I say the goal obviously should have stood so how does the VAR rule it out?

Again, Robbie Slater went on about the decision being correct because Hoffmann had made contact with the keeper. He’s allowed to!

Seriously, I really do wonder about the qualifications of people who commentate on football. I don’t mean to single Robbie out (who I usually quite like) – there are plenty of others who frequently get it wrong.

They’re obviously not reading my articles.


Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.