The Goal That Never Was

5 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   September 22, 2008  |     18

It was, by any standards, the most bizarre moment of the football season so far, and it’s difficult to imagine that it will be bettered. During Saturday afternoon’s match in the Championship between Watford and Reading, a goal was awarded that was not only controversial but didn’t actually happen at all. The strangeness started after thirteen minutes of the match, when Stephen Hunt’s corner bounced off Peter Eustace and well wide of the Watford goal. Linesman Nigel Bannister called referee Stuart Atwell and advised him to award a goal, which he duly did. John-Joe O’Toole and Jon Harley were booked in the ensuing melee, but the goal stood.

First of all, then, the case for the defence for the referee. While the referee obviously has the final say in all matters of this nature, it is a natural reaction that if a linesman flags for a goal, a goal is given. The Watford team’s reaction was understandable, but this reaction would have been the same had the ball landed three feet over the line. It was a case of it being the defence that cried wolf. Secondly, Atwell showed considerable bravery in awarding Reading a clear penalty with three minutes to play. It would have been understandable had he sought to even things up by not giving a clear foul. The conversion of the penalty tied things up at 2-2, which was a strangely apt. No-one could complain too much, considering that things ended up even.

Professional Game Match Officials, the body that oversees professional refereeing in England, had a relatively level-headed (if self-preserving) outlook on things. “”According to the laws of the game, the decision of the referee regarding facts connected with play are final and that includes whether a goal is scored or not,” said the PGMO. “The referee cannot change that decision once the game has been restarted”. All true enough, but one can’t help but think that the much-trumpeted “Respect” campaign might just have been undermined somewhat. How long it will take Atwell or Bannister’s reputation to cover is open to question. They are currently booked in for some “professional counselling”. They might just need it.

As with any story that receives this level of media coverage, the press have been going all out to cover as many new angles as possible. Winners of the award for the simultaneously most obvious and most desperate angle on the story goes to Sky Sports News, who quoted Stoke City manager stating the case for video technology. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a balanced article in the wake of an incident such as that which took place last weekend, and it’s important not to forget that the biggest single beneficiaries of introducing video footage would be… Sky Sports themselves, who would complete the circle of integrating television into the game itself. Ultimately, what we stand to lose should this technology be introduced is moments such as this, which should serve to remind us of the human nature of the game – an aspect of it which continues to set football apart from all other sports and doubtlessly contributes to its worldwide popularity. And after all, what happened at Vicarage Road on Saturday was hardly the end of the world, was it?



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • September 22, 2008 at 10:01 pm


    See you see that there wasn’t a Reading player there with the Watford ones talking to the ref about it.
    Not an honest one among them.

    If both sides had said to him it wasn’t a goal it might have changed his mind.
    But then again.. I don’t if he would.

  • September 23, 2008 at 2:25 am


    The League has ruled out a replay, but there has been at least one precedent elsewhere. Some time in the ’90s, in Germany (I think) a referee deemed that a shot which had gone wide was, in fact, a goal. The league ordered a replay.

    More recently, in Belgium (once more, I’m not certain where), a replay was staged because of the unusual circumstances surrounding a goal. As the scorer shot, the ball burst. Apparently, as soon as the ball bursts, play is supposed to be dead. The team who conceded made a protest to the league, who upheld it.

  • September 23, 2008 at 9:49 am


    As a long time Watford fan I was at the game and to date I’ve enjoyed your blog immensely but I have to take issue with what you say above.

    1. O’Toole was not booked in the post goal protests. He was booked later on after scoring.

    2. I hate to see teams protesting and trying to pull one over the referee but I think in this case the players were right to protest. When amongst 15k people only one person sees something different to 99.99% of the others there you have to question their judgment. This was gross incompetence. If the ball was off the bar and in by a fraction and the referee gives it I would expect and hope my team to take that decision on the chin. Unlikely in today’s game but to say that this was a defence crying wolf is inaccurate.

    3. How is it that the ref showed bravery in awarding a penalty? It was a clear penalty, so an easy decision to make. That’s his job. Is it a tough decision to award a throw one way or the other? No, not really if you show the right degree of authority. I hate it when pundits say “oh well he leveled things up there as if corruption in the refereeing circles is rife. Utter tosh. His job was to, in these circumstances, award a penalty. He did that. He shouldn’t be congratulated on that because of “earlier incidents”. To you I ask, why would it be understandable? If he had done so and not given the penalty that would have been cheating Reading of a penalty. To me that sounds just as bad a decision as awarding a goal that was clearly not in.

    Am I bitter about Saturday? I hope from reading the above you’ll see I’m not. I’m disappointed in the inept referring but I can get over that. That’s football and it has certainly given us something to talk about, laugh about and remember. More so than previous Watford-Reading affairs.

    I simply hope that football keeps its head and avoids the goal-line technology argument. Human intervention is what, in part, makes this game so fascinating at times.

  • November 3, 2008 at 3:41 pm


    “It was, by any standards, the most bizarre moment of the football season so far, and it’s difficult to imagine that it will be bettered.”

    Mr atwell just bettred himself yesterday. Last minute derby vs forest first we score but instead of a last minute winner we get a last minute penalty for a clearly accidental handball. Lee the traitor Camp dives before the whistle is blown and saves te penalty. But the rules clearly state the keeper has to wait for the whistle before he can dive so therefor the penalty should be retaken. Then when we scored another apparent last minute winner Mr Atwell said there was an infringement and has not yet said what the infringement was. Also the replay suggests no infringrement was made.

    Get Atwell out!!!

  • December 19, 2008 at 4:17 am


    his turning into rob fukin styles !!

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