The question ‘what if’ often sounds like an afterthought, but occasionally, it prompts reflection. Because what if KVC Westerlo could count on more – and moreover, justified by the head of referees himself – support in certain questionable situations? Then the balance after the first round of the competition would not be in a position right in the danger zone, but just above it. The current 11 points could easily have been 16 without much imagination. A world of difference.
Let’s start from the beginning. Just before the international break, a roaring Kuipje was suddenly silenced by a falling ball on the arm/shoulder of Westerlo defender Emin Bayram. Referee Nicolas Laforge initially pointed decisively to the corner flag but changed that decision to a penalty after a VAR intervention. In the spirit of football, the decision was difficult for the neutral football lover to understand. Referee spokesperson Frank De Bleeckere defended the theoretical side of the story in his regular column ‘Under Review’ with Dave Peeters. It was argued that contact is contact, and however involuntary Bayram’s touch with the ball was, his arm was not against the body, making it, according to the letter of the law, a penalty.
When Dave Peeters wanted to address the penalty phase between Matija Frigan and Wolke Janssens, De Bleeckere dismissed that event from the table. The rule ‘contact is contact’ was transformed into ’the contact didn’t last long enough, the striker went down too eagerly.’
Referee Boss Makes Mea Culpa
The same rule about contact was not maintained in Charleroi either. In the final moments of the match, a shot from Madsen was deflected after contact with the hand of Charleroi player Ilaimaharitra. No matter how unintentional and from how close the shot from Madsen was fired, a comparison with Bayram’s handball incident can be made. There was undeniably contact with Ilaimaharitra as well. Ilaimaharitra’s arm was also away from the body.
Referee boss Bertrand Layec also saw this. He communicated the following to our club, expressing regret for the decision and stating that KVC Westerlo was entitled to a penalty.
“Our match officials made two mistakes in this phase. It was clear that the ball was touched by the Charleroi defender. Therefore, the expected decision should have been a corner kick. However, the referee did not see any contact due to poor positioning with a wrong perspective.
With regard to our guidelines for handball:
– Arms quite far from the body – the player makes his body larger
– Arms are above the armpits
A VAR intervention was therefore expected to award a penalty to KVC Westerlo.”
In other words, clear language. Language that, if actually translated into actions, could have made a significant difference for our Kemphanen. At the end of the first round, people with a heart for the club are now calculating the 5-point difference compared to a safe 12th place in the standings. With correct and consistent officiating, that same calculation could have been made with an 8-point difference compared to Play-Off 1. That also could be the hard and fair answer to the question ‘what if’.