DUBAI: On Sunday afternoon, as you sit at home not watching soccer, take a moment to mark the 40th anniversary of an infamous moment in the history of the beautiful game.There was, to be clear, nothing beautiful about the incident. Rather than a celebration, the anniversary is more of a lament for an act that deprived us of something beautiful.On May 10, 1980, with three minutes left to play in the FA Cup Final between West Ham and Arsenal, something happened that had a profound effect on the game. With the Hammers leading 1-0 thanks to an early headed goal from Trevor Brooking, Paul Allen — who at the age of 17 was, at the time, the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup Final — found himself through on goal with only goalkeeper Pat Jennings to beat. One of the most romantic stories in the history of the FA Cup, a competition that fetishizes fairy tales, was about to be written.Enter joy-killing brute Willie Young. As Allen ran toward his destiny and a place in the history books, the defender callously, almost matter-of-factly, swiped the youngster’s legs from under him.Millions of hearts broke. “Oh what a pity; a cynical foul by Willie Young,” said BBC commentator John Motson, barely concealing his disgust.Perhaps unfairly, Young continues to be vilified for his act to an even greater extent than the cherubic Allen is beatified. After all, in stopping an almost certain goal Young was simply doing his job — just as Luis Suarez did his when his notorious handball denied Ghana a dramatic quarterfinal win over Uruguay during the 2010 World Cup.In both cases, the referees punished the guilty players to the fullest extent. But the rules of soccer in 1980 were more forgiving of such activity than they were 30 years later. Young was shown a yellow card; Suarez was sent off.Despite the foul on Allen, West Ham went on to win the cup 40 years ago. Even so, the fallout from Young’s tackle resulted in significant consequences. It set in motion a series of long-running debates that eventually changed the laws of the game to include the practice of sending off players for “denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.”After the 1980 Cup Final, many people argued that a cynical final-resort tackle by the “last man” — meaning the only remaining defender between an attacking player and the goal — must surely carry greater consequences.
● Willie Young’s notorious foul on 17-year-old Paul Allen during the 1980 FA Cup Final led to the laws of the game being rewritten.
● Perhaps unfairly, Young continues to be vilified for his act to an even greater extent than the cherubic Paul Allen is beatified. After all, in stopping an almost certain goal Young was simply doing his job.
● In both cases, the referees punished the guilty players to the fullest extent. But the rules of soccer in 1980 were more forgiving of such activity than they were 30 years later. Young was shown a yellow card; Suarez was sent off.
This seems obvious but things did not change overnight. First, a committee was set up by the English Football League to develop a rule to deal with professional fouls more severely.Then, in 1982, during a World Cup semifinal, West German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher not only assaulted Frenchman Patrick Battiston in a manner infinitely worse than Young’s tackle — knocking him unconscious and leaving him with a cracked vertebra and damaged teeth — but got away with it. Only then was a recommendation for sending off an offending “last man” presented to the International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmakers.Four years later, during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, France were again on the receiving end of a professional foul by a goalkeeper that went unpunished. A tense and brilliant quarterfinal match against Brazil was finely balanced at 1-1 with four minutes of extra time left when French substitute Bruno Bellone found himself bearing down on Brazil’s goalkeeper.With no defenders in pursuit, he nudged the ball past Carlos and the desperate goalkeeper tried to grab him. The Frenchman stayed on his feet but was sufficiently knocked off balance to ensure the goal-scoring opportunity was lost.Unlike their clash with the Germans in 1982, this time justice was done when France won on penalties.It would be another four years before the rules changed to punish professional fouls that prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity with a straight red card. Not that this marked the end of controversies.An obvious goal-scoring opportunity, particularly in the early years, remained a judgment call by the referee. Young’s foul on Allen was as blatant as they come, but even a legitimate attempt at an interception can result in a red card.Sometimes the punishment exceeds the crime. A penalty, most likely leading to a goal, on top of a sending off often seems harsh for more innocuous challenges. And so the double jeopardy aspect of the rule was amended in 2017 so that if a penalty is awarded, the referee has discretion to show the offending player a yellow card, if he believes the challenge was a “legitimate” attempt to win the ball.In 1980, despite being denied a historic goal, there was at least some joy for Allen. When the final whistle blew, the youngster broke down in tears in the fatherly arms of match-winner Brooking; he even got a congratulatory hug from Young. The teenager then climbed the famous stairs at old Wembley to receive his winner’s medal.That sunny May afternoon in 1980 will forever define him — and changed the modern game.