‘Ghost referee’ an unprecedented moment that explains why Liverpool will not accept an apology

Simon Hooper points to award a free-kick
Simon Hooper decided it was too late to rectify the Var's mistake - REUTERS/David Klein

When recalling the 2005 Champions League semi-final, Jose Mourinho likes to observe the night he ‘lost 0-0’ after Luis García’s ‘ghost goal’ was controversially awarded.

Jürgen Klopp will feel empowered to reference ‘the 2-2 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur’ in Sep 2023 following the lamentable failure to apply the laws of the game. Or one specific law of the game. That rather important one where a team scores a goal, an official awards it and the opposing team kicks off.

Simon Hooper, Darren England and Dan Cook probably thought it was going quite well until they stumbled at that final hurdle.

“Er… Simon… I think you’ve missed something out,” or a variation thereof will make for compelling and darkly comic listening when the Var audio surrounding Luis Díaz’s offside ‘goal’ is made public.

Liverpool had the weight of public opinion behind them for 24 hours as neutrals reviewed the incident with incredulity and more diligence than those employed to do so at the time.

Then the Merseyside club released a statement on Sunday evening, somebody mentioned the ‘R’ word, and all roads lead to Damascus for those converted to the idea that the criticism of the officials had gone too far and all talk of a replay deserves ridicule.

Those chastising Liverpool’s strongly worded condemnation have a lot in common with Klopp at full-time on Saturday night. They are missing a point.

Liverpool’s statement was not calling for the Premier League to demand the result be voided, although the ambiguity of the phrase ‘exploring a range of options’ certainly encourages a debate as to where this should and will lead.

There were prolonged talks as to whether the club should say anything at all on Sunday. Initially they were reluctant. Their anger increased during the course of the day and ultimately they felt compelled to speak out, especially upon learning about England and Cook’s dash to and from the United Arab Emirates 48 hours before the Premier League fixture and the deeply troubling questions that posed.

Liverpool’s intention is to fully comprehend how there could be such a monumental cock-up in a game of such importance and are determined to force the publication of the offending audio so as to ensure no other team suffer at the hands of such rank ineptitude.

Now the chats between on-field referee Hooper and Var England are being sought with the tenaciousness of a subpoena for Richard Nixon to release his Oval Office musing about Watergate.

PGMOL chief Howard Webb has no option but to relent, with Liverpool anticipating a report on Monday. Once the level of incompetence has been established, Liverpool will determine what, if any, next steps are available.

Howard Webb while training referees
Howard Webb has no choice but to release the audio of the exchange between Simon Hooper and Stockley Park - Alex Livesey/Fifa via Getty Images

We already know the tape will reveal how England thought he had advised Hooper a goal had been legally scored and initially thought it was awarded, only to then realise it had not registered on the scoresheet.

In probably the most damaging oversight of all, we witnessed the ‘ghost referee’ rather than ghost goal, as an ashen faced-Hooper froze and decided it was too late to do anything about it.

There is no logic to Hooper, England, Cook, Webb or anyone else saying nothing could be done once the game had restarted. Had Hooper paused play and explained the situation to both managers, Spurs could have been advised to enable Díaz to run through unchallenged and rectify the mistake. Spurs would still have had an hour to overturn a 1-0 deficit against 10-men. Most importantly, the integrity of the result would have been unaffected.

Instead, the Premier League is in uncharted territory. Never before has an official given a goal and the scoreboard failed to reflect it.

You can compile as many lists as tribalism sees fit about appalling offside decisions, missed handballs, goals not given when the ball clearly crossed the line, or goals given when no one can be sure it did. Football is full of such perceived sporting injustices.

What you will not find in English football history is a team being awarded a goal but the scoreline remaining unchanged. This is not an issue of subjectivity, or interpretation of the laws, or a divisive decision to be debated in the pub like ‘one of those things’.

How would such an argument go?

“That Díaz offside ? Seen them given. No, actually, it was given. Never seen that before, to be fair.”

This is genuinely unprecedented; black and white; a factual, objective, concrete, provable truth. Liverpool scored. The Var gave it. The referee was informed about it. PGMOL knew about it – although we must wait to learn at what point – and now the Premier League must deal with it, with the timeframe of the fall-out potentially dependent on whether Klopp’s new look side is as good as it has looked in the first two months of the season.

There could be profound implications if this year’s title race is anything like 2018-19 and 2021-22.

That experience is all over Liverpool’s statement on Sunday without being mentioned at all.

On both occasions Liverpool lost the title on the final day by a single point to a club owned by the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

A repeat in 2024, or even if Klopp’s side missed Champions League football by such a margin – or Spurs earned it by two – will lead to more recriminations.

It is no wonder Liverpool are not prepared to accept an apology and meekly move on. They are unlikely to get a replay of the match, but the very least every club and supporter deserves is no replay of such an unmitigated farce.

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