Posted on: Thu 14 Nov 2013

While trying to make sense of no club match this weekend, Chelsea fan and columnist Giles Smith gives his view on the nerve-testing end to the last one…

What with all the fuss that blew up afterwards, and hung like a cloud of sulphur for about three days, you could very easily have formed the impression that there was something controversial about our equalising goal against West Brom last Saturday.

I can't for the life of me think why. Player runs into penalty area; player gets tripped over; penalty. Where's the controversy? That's just the way football works, and, frankly, it's been that way since the invention of the penalty area.

Indeed, at the risk of stating the obvious, it's why they call it the penalty area. Because it's the 'area' in which things that happen, such as trips, tend to yield - if noticed by the referee - a 'penalty'. Hence 'penalty area'.

And it doesn't matter whether it happens in the sixth minute or the 96th minute, because it's not about timing. It's just one of the game's absolutes. Trip in box equals penalty. And much as an argument is always fun, there's no room for debate.

Of course, you could see why people got upset and wanted to make allowances. West Brom were merely seconds away from a famous victory, one which very few people had foreseen, even in this least predictable of all Premier League seasons.

To that extent, the awarding of a penalty right at the last gasp, with the prize of three points just millimetres from the visiting team's grasp, must have seemed, from the neutral's point of view, a bit like tearing off the final chapter of a fairy story and replacing it with a few random pages from the phone book.

But, again, you can't go meddling with the rules just for the sake of a more dramatic narrative or just to produce a juicier, more popular storyline. If you could, penalties would be being awarded against Manchester United all the time. And, as it happens, they all too rarely are.

So, trip, penalty, equaliser, game over. Final score: 2-2. Points shared. It's not particularly romantic, I suppose. You could even say it's a bit brutal. But that's football. Football has never been about fairy stories - or only intermittently, anyway.

The person I wouldn't have wanted to be after 96 minutes on Saturday was Eden Hazard.

Talk about pressure. 1-2 down; one kick to save the game; 41,000 people looking on expectantly.

And then there's the small additional matter of the manager's unbeaten-at-the-Bridge-in-the Premier League record, clearly now hanging on this one spot kick. Yet another reason not to want to get your run-up slightly wrong and see the ball arrive a split second later in row 14.

Meanwhile, there's an excruciating delay while pretty much every member of the West Brom team is finishing complaining to the referee about the unfairness of awarding a penalty in the 96th minute against a team leading 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in surprising circumstances. (See the item above for an explanation of the incorrectness of this view.)

OK, all this is happening at the Matthew Harding end, where, as a Chelsea player with a penalty to take, you could rely on a cosy and encouraging atmosphere. But that might only have added to the pressure, in fact. All the nervous hope on those faces: better, in some ways, to be booting the ball vengefully into a wailing wall of antagonism. (You may care to refer to the shoot-out in the Champions League Final of 2012 in Munich for a convincing demonstration of this negative-makes-positive scenario.)


Thankfully, Hazard is made of some steely stuff and, once the referee had finally settled everything down and the penalty was ready to be taken, was able to roll the ball rather nonchalantly into the right-hand corner. Personally, I don't think I would have been capable of standing up at that point, let alone kicking anything, let alone nonchalantly rolling anything. But that's why Eden Hazard plays for Chelsea and I don't. (It's one of the reasons, anyway.)

If you want a genuine scandal, something really worth devoting some newspaper headlines to, I've got one for you: we're on the edge of another international week.

You'll be saying, 'Another one? But didn't we just have one of those, only a minute ago?'

To which the answer is: yes, we did. And now, incredibly, we've got another one.

It's only November, and already the season has had to stop and re-start three times just so countries can play each other. Is it any wonder everybody's form is so unpredictable? Nobody gets to concentrate for more than five minutes. The squad is forever having to split up and fly off all over the world, leaving the rest of us with no football to watch.

And to what end? Simply so that England can play a friendly against Chile and Steven Gerrard can give a rousing interview to the press about restoring the national team to glory, prior to dropping out with his latest niggle.

Scandal, we say. A proper, full-blown scandal.