Bureaucratic buffoons killing English football: Neil Humphreys
Handball rule changes are making games joyless with distorted results
The joyless interpretation of the handball rule will drive fans away from the game - unless common sense prevails.
The English Premier League is supposed to be a brief escape from rigid guidelines.
Wear a mask. Don't socialise. Stay home and watch football in tiny groups without cheering or singing. Irritating rules are a way of life now.
We need another one like we need a second wave.
And yet, out of the frying pan of Covid-19 regulations and into the fire of EPL lawmakers, watching a match is looking a lot like another day in a pandemic.
It's becoming a spirit-crushing bore.
Bureaucratic buffoons are taking a simple pleasure and squeezing anything entertaining or spontaneous from the spectacle.
Last weekend, Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace were the latest clubs to be punished for fabricated crimes. Penalties were awarded in accordance with the new, infuriating interpretation of the handball rule.
Unearned goals ruined both contests. Distorted results made a mockery of any notion of fair play. And myopic bureaucrats emasculated the world's most popular league. Again.
Everyone else was angry. Palace manager Roy Hodgson was angry that a farcical decision robbed his side of a point.
Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce was angry, despite benefiting from a daft decision against Spurs, because he was magnanimous enough to see the bigger picture.
Football matches are not being settled on football pitches.
Gary Neville was angry on behalf of penalised footballers - the guys that rarely get consulted despite being the only guys blessed with a unique understanding of how the human body moves in a penalty box.
Footballers raise their arms for balance. Otherwise they behave like tembusu trees in a tropical storm. They fall over.
To reach crosses, defenders use their arms for elevation. Otherwise, they take off like a helicopter without propellers. They don't get off the ground.
And fans from Tottenham to Tampines are angry at the emotional adjustments that are now required. Spontaneous outbursts need to be kept in check while miserable men with geeky machines suck any elation from the game.
Officials seem determined to assert their omnipotence by enforcing a new handball interpretation that no one was asking for.
Previously, a hand that moved the ball deliberately was penalised. Accidental handballs largely went unpunished.
As always, there was a grey area, that is, human error. But, hey, that's what the video assistant referee was for - to catch the clear and obvious errors.
Unfortunately, Fifa's lawmakers insisted on simplistic uniformity across the board. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) wanted accidental handballs to be punished, too, removing all nuance and logic.
No one knows IFAB's faceless officials in the same way that no one is familiar with the folks that measure the canvases in the National Gallery. Their role in the artistic process should be negligible.
But that's no longer the case with IFAB's rule change. Unseen administrators have determined the outcome of games and played havoc with statistics.
The law was introduced across major leagues last season, but the EPL waited a year before imposing the change. The difference proved extraordinary.
According to the BBC, in the first three weeks of last season, there were eight penalties awarded in 30 EPL games. None were given for handball.
This time around, with the new rule in place, 20 penalties have been dished out in 26 games. Six were given for handball.
And the contrast between Europe's top leagues is even more concerning.
Last season, in the EPL, there were 19 penalties awarded for handball.
In La Liga, where the rule change was already in place, 48 handball penalties were given. In Serie A, an astonishing 57 spot-kicks came from handballs.
This is where the EPL is headed; a joyful, organic experience reduced to a mind-numbing series of legal challenges.
Goals are precious commodities. Their rarity only adds to the tension and adrenaline that precede every dash into the box.
Similarly, a penalty is a probable goal, statistically speaking, and should serve only as a reward for a fine piece of skill or as a punishment for a woeful mistake.
When a spot-kick is given because a ball brushes the arm hairs of Eric Dier, while the Tottenham midfielder has his back to the ball and is well away from goal, then the game becomes unwatchable.
Apparently, the EPL can discuss the interpretation of the handball law at a shareholders' meeting next month. It must be ditched.
This embarrassing mess has become a symbolic battle between the creative footballer and the clueless bureaucrat.
As it stands, the footballer is losing control of his game.