GILES SMITH: ON THE SPOT
A tale of two penalties is the subject of Giles Smith's column this week, as new light is shed on incidents indelibly etched on the memory of any Chelsea supporter who witnessed them…
With our quarter-final replay against Manchester United in mind (for anyone having trouble keeping up, it's the game on Monday, which is to say after our Premier League match against Southampton on Saturday, but before our Europa League quarter-final against Rubin Kazan on Thursday, and almost a whole week ahead of our Premier League game against Sunderland the following Sunday: all clear?), it was interesting to read some remarks from David Elleray this week. The retired football referee confessed to the BBC's website, 'I'm still hurting about a decision I made almost 20 years ago in the FA Cup final.'
'What decision was that?' asked the BBC's website, as thousands of Chelsea fans' ears reflexively twitched.
Elleray replied, 'I gave a debatable second penalty in the FA Cup Final of 1994. On reflection I would prefer not to have given that decision. I had already given Manchester United a stonewall penalty beforehand. But the second one was justifiable, but not a strong penalty. I was disappointed in that decision and it clouded my enjoyment of that major game. In a way it's spoiled my memory of the cup final. It was my big game and I made a disappointing decision.'
Well, we could debate forever the words 'justifiable' and 'not a strong penalty', and the extent to which they serve, in a funny old way, as a kind of retraction of the retraction here. But let's not quibble about that. Let's instead observe that Mr Elleray lastingly disappointed himself with that decision in the 66th minute at Wembley, and enjoy the thought that, were he able to wind back the clock, he would do otherwise. And from all of that, let's draw a slightly comforting crumb of justification for our bitterness on that sopping wet afternoon, some 19 years past.
We had crushed Manchester United, you will perhaps recall, in the first half of that final. But the second of those penalties, in turn, crushed us - as two penalties given against you in six minutes, the second of them nonsense, are always likely to, and especially if those penalties are compounded three minutes later by Frank Sinclair slipping over and half-drowning in a puddle to allow Mark Hughes (of all people) to add a third. All the fun rather quickly drained out of the day after that.
(Remember, kids, that Wembley trips for FA Cup finals weren't the almost annual works outing which they have become in recent years. Indeed, some of us in the crowd that day had waited almost a quarter of a century for this particular afternoon to come around, only to see the party exploded in a couple of blows of the whistle, one of them 'disappointing', it turns out, even to its blower.)
Still, thank you for your admirable frankness and your honesty, Mr Elleray. And we, too, share your hurt. Except more, probably.
Only because this highly informative website of ours encouraged me to (there was an irresistible link in the report on his recent Twitter Q&A session), I had another look the other day at my fellow columnist Pat Nevin's legendary penalty miss against Manchester City in 1984.
And what a puzzling sight it still is, not least because, just before taking the penalty, with unfortunately lame consequences, Pat, openly channelling Charlie Cooke, has just typically jinked inside, bamboozled a defender and deftly played in Paul Canoville who draws the foul. (It's very much a clip of two halves in this respect.)
The penalty, though, is taken off a wince-inducingly short run-up which might be as common as tattoos now, but weren't at all fashionable in those days, and the resulting shot could be said to lack pace. Indeed, Stamford had some tougher asks made of him between the sticks in that kids' showdown at half time the other week.
The moment also draws a peerless piece of Barry Davies commentary: 'Dear oh dear, I don't believe it. I hope I'm not being too unkind to Pat Nevin, a player of undoubted quality, but that has to be the worst penalty I've ever seen at this level of football.'
All very chortlesome, if ultimately inexplicable.
But then, very much in the way of YouTube (which can become a rabbit hole down which you disappear forever if you're not careful), I found this:
Mistakenly labelled as 'the best penalty miss ever', it's actually film of a moment in Dubai where a player simply passes the ball back to the goalkeeper from the spot, in sporting acknowledgement that the penalty shouldn't have been given.
In the week that David Elleray cast some helpful new light on a key event in our past, perhaps this further clip can now help us illuminate and explain the fabled Nevin spot-kick - entertaining, for sure, but also, at root, baffling up to now. It might look like a rubbish penalty, but in fact it was a back pass, and a piece of all-too-rare sportsmanship - the equivalent of returning the ball after an opponent has received treatment. (We were, after all, 4-0 up at the time.) I'm amazed Pat hasn't pointed this out before. But that's the man all over.
And why didn't Eric Cantona do that in 1994? Different kind of player in the end, I guess, with a different kind of morality.