Roker Ramble: Still The Gentleman's Game?

Giuseppe Bellini - Getty Images

As Demba Ba nudged home Newcastle's equaliser on Saturday afternoon with his hand Reading fans and many more were "up in arms" that the forward did not confess his crime. It begs the question where do we stand on fair play these days, is it simply pie in sky idealism in the cutthroat world of modern day football?

The issue of fair play within football reared its apparent ugly head again this weekend as Newcastle United's prolific Demba Ba notched again this term, only this time with his arm rather than a more sanctioned limb. Reading defender Kaspars Gorkks claimed that following the goal Ba himself admitted the offence:

"He said (it was handball) himself and apologised to our keeper that he had handled the ball. Fair play to him but if the ref doesn't see it then it doesn't count."

So is Gorkks right? Whilst the responsibility for halting play for such an offence undoubtedly lies with the officials, if Ba was so aware of how he made contact with the ball before it hit the back of the net should the right thing to do have not been to admit the wrong-doing to Andre Marriner?

This was of course the case in Serie A last week when Lazio's Miroslav Klose did exactly that following his "goal" in the early stages of a game away to Napoli. The German forward gave his side the lead having handled the ball across the line and amid furious protests from the home side Klose came clean with the referee and a freekick was awarded for the infringement. Lazio would go on to lose the game 3-0.

Klose has quite rightly received plaudits for his refreshing display of sportsmanship that is not often seen in the modern game where failure is now more costly than ever. Quite how his manager Vladimir Petkovic viewed his striker's honesty is another matter however.

Paulo Di Canio also shocked the world with a similar sporting gesture way back in 2000 whilst wearing the colours of West Ham and with the goal it his mercy to seal a hard-fought win for his travelling side at Goodison Park. With seconds remaining and Everton's goalkeeper Paul Gerrard lying injured outside of his area, Trevor Sinclair angled a cross into the area which found Di Canio with a match winning tap-in. However what happened next took everyone by surprise given the fiery Italian's reputation as he plucked the ball out of the air pointing to the stricken opposition goalkeeper.

From a personal point of view it is completely understandable for everyone connected with Reading to feel hard done by that Ba's goal was allowed to stand. However the finger of blame should be directed towards Andre Marriner rather than the centre forward. The referee was in a fantastic position to spot the offence but for whatever reason failed to award the homeside with a freekick.

I also feel that as football fans we are afforded so much analysis of every talking point from every match, especially in the Premier League, that it can be easy to forget that Andre Marriner had just once chance, in real-time to make a judgement call on the goal. He didn't have the luxury of Gary Neville slowing down the proceedings, selecting the best camera angle and zooming in to a degree that would have the CSI Miami team jealous of his technology. Whether or not the officials should have access to such replays is of course a whole other argument!

So what of Demba Ba? Many seem to believe that if he was able to confess to the Reading players at the time it was handball why not pass this crucial information on to the officials? Far from launching into a scathing attack on the forward I believe he simply profited from a huge slice of good fortune on Saturday afternoon in my eyes and in no way did he intend to strike the ball with his hand - he simply mistimed his header and went on to benefit from a lucky ricochet.

That for me is the crucial, deciding factor in the matter - intent. Did Ba intend to put the ball over the line with his arm? In my opinion, no. So therefore there was no "deliberate" crime for him to admit to. However, for example, did Thierry Henry deliberately handle the ball during that now infamous World Cup Qualifier against Ireland? Undoubtedly. Should Henry have come clean at the time? Absolutely. Would we complain if Steven Fletcher scored the winner is similar fashion in the derby in a few weeks time? Nah! That's football.

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