Soft penalties put English Premier League referees on the spot
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Soft penalties put English Premier League referees on the spot

Last weekend there were some very contentious penalty decisions given in the English Premier League. That's nothing new of course, but it's becoming a regular occurrence and makes one wonder if the authorities should take a long hard look at the rules. There are also feelings that VAR could be better utilised.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were awarded a penalty when Mykhailo Mudryk went down in the box after a minor collision with Burnley's Lorenz Assignon. Replays showed that a poor touch by Mudryk meant he would never have got the ball but the Chelsea player somehow got himself entangled with Assignon.

For many fans it was never a penalty and to make matters worse Assignon was sent off as it was his second yellow card. Burnley manager Vincent Kompany was also red-carded for protesting the decision. Yet, despite playing with 10 men for half the game Burnley held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw.

At St James' Park, Newcastle benefitted from two dubious penalties against West Ham, both of which involved star player Anthony Gordon. The first, after just three minutes looked really soft but ref Rob Jones was convinced Gordon had been fouled.

The second, however was an absolute farce. The unfortunate Kalvin Phillips, for whom nothing can go right at the moment, was about to clear the ball when Gordon stuck his foot in the way and fell over. To his credit the ref did not give a penalty immediately, but VAR stepped in, asking him to review the incident. And we all know what invariably happens when refs get VAR "advice".

There is a strong case for the rulings on penalties be examined closely and possibly overhauled. Week after week we also see spot kicks given for handball when the ball hits a defender from such close range they don't have any time to react.

It may surprise some fans but in the very early days there was no such thing as penalties. They were eventually introduced in 1891 after controversial incidents in matches when defenders punched away goal-bound shots. The first-ever penalty scored in the English Football League was on Sept 14, 1891 when J Heath of Wolves converted a spot kick against Accrington Stanley

One of the big amateur clubs at the time, Corinthian Casuals, initially strongly opposed the introduction of penalties as they felt it was a slur on their reputation for sportsmanship. Their players were bizarrely instructed to deliberately miss any penalties awarded to them while goalkeepers were ordered not to try and save spot kicks.

Over the past 133 years penalties have played significant roles in countless matches. In a 1924 fixture between Crewe Alexandra and Bradford the referee awarded four penalties in just five minutes. The highest number of penalties in a match occurred in a game between Crystal Palace and Brighton in 1989 in which five penalties were awarded. Despite missing three of their four spot kicks, Palace won 2-1.

In the 1971-2 season Manchester City's Francis Lee scored a record 15 of his 35 goals from the spot to earn the nickname "Lee Pen".

Goalkeepers who save penalties can become instant heroes. One of the most famous moments featured Wimbledon's Dave Beasant who in 1988 became the first goalie to save a penalty in an FA Cup final when he stopped John Aldridge's spot kick as the Crazy Gang upset Liverpool 1-0.

Not everyone appreciates penalties. The great Brazilian footballer Pele once famously observed "a penalty is a cowardly way to score". Mind you, that didn't stop him scoring regularly from spot kicks throughout his career.

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