It was an all too familiar scene on Sky Sports Monday Night Football; Gary Neville toggled the controls at the side of his big screen and concluded that it was undisputable Everton’s Victor Anichebe’s header had crossed the line
A double injustice for the Toffees who had earlier been denied a perfectly good goal when Marouane Fellaini was incorrectly flagged offside. For many watching, it provided yet more evidence that football is lagging far behind other sports by not letting technology ‘help’ its officials.
I would argue that this is far from the case.
Unlike other sports such as tennis or athletics the rules of football are almost always a matter of interpretation. The laws of the game are implemented according to a referees’ or linesman’s particular judgement.
So every game contains countless decisions that cannot help but be debatable. You only have to watch a handful of managers post match interviews to realise one man’s foul is another’s fair challenge.
It is an area rarely acknowledged in the debate over technology in football, which more often than not focuses on isolated high profile incidents ignoring completely their context within a match.
Following Ukraine’s ‘ghost goal’ against England at the Euros, Sepp Blatter tweeted: 'After last night’s match #GLT [goal line technology] is no longer an alternative but a necessity.'
Fifa’s president conveniently ignoring the fact that Artem Milevsky was clearly offside in the build-up to Marco Devic’s shot crossing the line. If the goal had been given England could have justifiably complained about its legitimacy.
In Monday’s game too, the free-kick which led to Anichebe’s header was debatable to say the least.
This demonstrates how often in the examples used prove the benefit of technological assistance deliberately fail to represent the complete picture. Is it really more unfair to be denied a goal when the ball has crossed the line than when a player is wrongly flagged offside?
No. The introduction of goal line technology would strengthen the calls for a video referral system. But, whatever the technology the reality remains that many decisions would be still subject to an official's interpretation.
Take Rugby League for instance, video referees often makefalse or controversial calls because they can only interpret the angle given to them. The camera too can lie and misrepresent incidents. How many times have you been watching a game where it seems clear that there was a foul and ten minutes later a different angle reveals in slow motion it was actually a dive.
I’m not saying that these things even themselves out, often they don’t. Teams are relegated and win trophies as a result of disputable refereeing decisions. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that technology will make everyone see things the same way, it won’t.
image: © Brett Jordan