Howard Webb urges VAR officials to intervene more often on soft penalties


Video assistant referees in England have been urged to speak out on “soft” penalties, by encouraging on-pitch officials to review their decision even if an error is not “clear and obvious”. The new advice from the referees’ chief, Howard Webb, follows a succession of controversial penalty incidents in the Premier League and Europe.

It is understood that VAR officials were told on Wednesday by Webb, the chief refereeing officer of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, they should feel able to draw a referee’s attention to penalty decisions made after challenges that involve only minimal contact. Recent examples of such incidents involve penalties awarded against Wolves in two matches, against Newcastle and Sheffield United, with the former resulting in the demotion of the referee Anthony Taylor to the Championship for a game week.

The Wolves manager, Gary O’Neil, suggested the game was in a “crazy place” when he described the penalty that led to Sheffield United grabbing a late 2-1 win over his team at Bramall Lane this month, after a challenge by the forward Fábio Silva on George Baldock.

“Fábio’s shinpad probably grazes Baldock’s calf,” O’Neil said. “I’ve watched it loads of times and there’s minimal contact and if we’re giving fouls for that, there would have been a million fouls in that football match. I’m honestly lost, I don’t know where to go with it. I’m told to go in and have a sensible conversation, but he still watched it telling me it’s a penalty, which tells me we’re in a crazy place.”

The new recommendations were made at a meeting of referees and officials in Loughborough. Interaction between managers and officials was also on the agenda, with referees reminded of the importance of issuing yellow cards for dissent after a sharp increase in the number of incidents in managers’ technical areas this season.

According to PGMOL statistics, instances of dissent among players have more than doubled this term, with 347 incidents compared with 165 at the same stage of last season. Dissent among managers and staff has grown even more quickly, with numbers nearly quadrupling from 35 this time last year to 126 in 2023.