Garry Haylock: Football has a habit of making clever people look really silly

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The rather contentious issue of penalties has dominated the headlines around the League of Ireland in the last few days. I think back to my own career, and one particular incident sprang to mind.

 

In 1994, while playing for a very good Linfield team, we approached the penultimate game of the season away to Coleraine knowing that we had to get a result. Portadown, our nearest rivals, were playing Ballymena in a game they were expected to win.

 

With about 15 minutes to go, we were losing 2-1 and getting nowhere against a resolute defence. Meanwhile the huge Linfield support had let us know that Portadown were winning. If the results remained the same then Portadown would win the league.

 

In the 86th minute I found myself running on to a ball over the top and as I got to the penalty area I took a heavy touch and knew the ball was going to run out of play. I could feel the centre half – Stuart McClean – behind me and I took a tumble more in hope than anything else.

 

The referee gave a penalty and the Coleraine players went mad. I got up, scored the penalty and we nicked a draw. As we came off the pitch we heard that Ballymena had scored two late goals and we were still in the Championship race.

 

The following week, Portadown drew with local rivals Glenavon in a game that, if either of them had won, would have secured them the league. We defeated Glentoran 2-0 and came up on the outside and won it!

 

It may be that you feel that I cheated to win the penalty that played a big part in winning the league, and I can understand that, but I was exposed to a different view when I played in Greece.

 

The players there took the view that it was up to the referee to decide whether an incident warrants a penalty or free kick and it is the duty of any player to do whatever it takes to try and win the game.

 

It was also said to me that going to ground when you could have stayed on your feet was the same principle as appealing for a throw in or corner when you know that you had the last touch.

 

Very often your viewpoint is affected by your perspective.

 

When I came off the pitch at Coleraine, the first question I was asked by the manager, Trevor Anderson, was “did he touch you?” When told the truth, as I recall, he had a wry smile and never mentioned it again!

 

When, two years later, I played for Ronnie McFall at Portadown and I told him the same story, he was apopletic, which I thought was a fair response.

 

I don’t think there would have been many Linfield fans who, on that Saturday night that we celebrated winning another league championship, would have said that they didn’t want it based on the events at Coleraine the week before.

 

Having been on the receiving end of some pretty poor refereeing decision and then had to speak to the press, I can understand the frustration that Stephen Kenny was feeling after the Bray game last week.

 

I am also certain that Stephen will know given some time to reflect that making the kind of comments that he did after losing just looks like sour grapes.

 

Sometimes you just have to clench your teeth, say nothing and move on to the next one. Refereeing is an incredibly difficult job and mistakes will be made, just as players and managers will make them.

 

I can just see John Caulfield chuckling as he hears what Stephen has said and then thinks, “here’s a chance for a bit of mischief!”

 

Perhaps John was thinking about the last three years of watching Dundalk pulverise everyone around them. Now that Cork are in the ascendancy, it is easy to make the kind of comment that the he did.

 

Unfortunately, football has a habit of making clever people look really silly. I think that the season has many twists and turns to come but the absolute certainty is that there will be a penalty in the next Dundalk v Cork game!

 

Garry Haylock is a former professional footballer and manager. During his playing career he represented Shelbourne, Dundalk, Linfield and Glentoran, winning the Premier Division twice and the FAI Cup three times, as well as two titles in Northern Ireland and 2 IFA Cups.