"They don't know what they're doing": The worst refereeing decisions

With the likes of the Northern Ireland football team falling foul to some terrible refereeing this month, this week we decided to take on some of most memorable game-changing blunders and dodgy decisions in the history of sport.

Tom Shrimplin
27th November 2017
Manny Pacquiao is just one athlete to fall foul of terrible refereeing. Source: Wikipedia

Thierry Henry’s handball in 2010 World Cup Qualifier- James Harris

Thierry Henry remains a lauded figure in France and half of North London, but in Ireland his image will forever be associated with treachery and injustice.

It was 18 November 2009, and the Republic of Ireland had a 1-0 lead in Saint-Denis to take the second leg of their World Cup qualifier play-off into extra-time, cancelling out France’s narrow win in Dublin. Against the 1998 champions, the Boys in Green had battled impressively to give themselves a real chance of making only their fourth ever World Cup.

However, in the 12th minute of extra time, Florent Malouda’s free-kick was dropping safely out for a goal-kick, when Henry stopped the ball with his hand, controlled it with a second touch and squared for William Gallas to nod in the vital winner.

Irish players fumed as Henry and his teammates celebrated wildly without shame, but the Swedish referee Martin Hansson and his assistants failed to spot the blatant cheating, robbing the Green Army of another World Cup dream.


Graham Poll’s three yellow cards- James Harris

Some refereeing decisions are remembered for smashing dreams and ruining sporting spectacles, others are merely recalled for their hilarious ridiculousness. Graham Poll’s mishap in the 2006 World Cup firmly falls in the latter category.

In a 2-2 group stage draw between Croatia and Australia, Poll brandished his yellow card twice to Josip Simunic, but failed to send the player off. Three minutes after his lucky escape, the Croatian defender found himself in trouble again, being shown a third yellow card before Poll finally pulled out the red. It was a blunder that had no effect on the game’s outcome and is still remembered as one of the most bizarre and amusing gaffes in World Cup history.

Things weren’t so funny for Poll though. England’s representative referee at the tournament had previously been touted as a potential candidate to officiate the final, but he was swiftly sent home after his error. Now Poll is almost exclusively remembered as the ref that gave a player three yellow cards. He retired just a year after the incident.


Maradona's “Hand of God”- Emma Bancroft

During a tense political situation only four years after the Falklands war, Diego Maradona scored a goal for Argentina using his hand in the quarter-final world cup game against England. The way he scored the goal went unnoticed by the referee and linesman; intensifying the already extreme football rivalry between England and Argentina, especially after Argentina went on to win the 1986 World Cup title.

In an interview with Gary Lineker, Maradona admitted that he had used his hand to score the goal, and further admitted to doing it previously in Argentina. He recounted how he shouted “goal” and looked behind him to see if the referee had “taken the bait” and he later said that he waited for his teammates to embrace him and told them “come hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it”.

30 years later, goalkeeper Paul Shilton said that he still hasn’t forgiven Diego Maradona and condemns his lack of sportsmanship for not apologising for his cheating after the game.


Australia vs Scotland in 2015 Rugby World Cup- Tom Shrimplin

The tense and exciting quarter-final between Scotland and Australia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup will always be tarred by the controversial, last minute penalty that gave the Wallabies the win and utterly devastated the Scots.

With only a few minutes of the game remaining referee Craig Joubert- albeit without the guidance of the TMO (television match official) due to the laws of the game- awarded Australia a penalty after calling for a deliberate offside following a poor line-out from the Scots. Yet the replays which were widely shown to the near 80,000 strong crowd, seemed to show that the ball had ricocheted off a Wallaby player.

After the game had finished Joubert instead of talking to the officials and players, quickly ran to the tunnel to a chorus of boos. His behaviour was later widely criticised almost as much as his terrible mistake. Indeed, the extent of this mistake was so great, that even World Rugby had issued a statement stating that the penalty was ‘erroneous’.

Altogether, it was not a good day in the office for Joubert, who by the following year had quit refereeing the fifteen-man version of the sport.


Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley I- Tom Shrimplin

“Pac Man” was in his prime having won world championships in eight different weight classes, but was defeated for the first time in seven years by American boxer Timothy Bradley after a controversial split decision.

Pacquiao dominated the early rounds with many powerful punches that sent the American, who also appeared to have injured his foot, back into his corner. While Bradley had gained some momentum in the last three rounds, it seemed apparent to everyone ringside that the Filipino who landed 94 punches had won.

Yet, to massive jeers from an angry crowd, judges Duane Ford and C. J. Ross scored the fight 115–113 in favour of Bradley, while Jerry Roth scored the fight 115–113 in favour of Pacquiao. Whereas Pacquiao took defeat graciously, the crowd continued to boo, and many commentators had criticised the verdict with the likes of Amir Khan calling it a “robbery”. Indeed, all five judges in a review panel also later gave the Filipino the win, however the result of the fight could not be overturned.

Nevertheless, Pac Man finally got his vengeance against Bradley after two rematches, defeating him by unanimous decision both times.

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