If goals change games, do non-goals have any less effect? Anyone who saw England somehow defeat Ukraine will know immediately what I’m talking about. Every England fan will instantly cast their mind back two years to Frank Lampard’s non-goal that would have been the equaliser against Germany and would, of course, have changed that game beyond all recognition. (OK, maybe it would and maybe it wouldn’t, but a little bias is what football is all about.)
Less than 24 hours after the television proved yet again that it has better eyesight than a goal-line official, Sepp Blatter has pronounced that goal-line technology is now a ‘necessity’. Is it a coincidence that FIFA’s president has finally converted in such a grand style to what many of us have been urging for years and that this Damscene moment comes just after an England win? Of course it is a coincidence! Mr B was always secretly in favour of technology and he has waited until one of the unfortunates of world football has suffered a game-changing catastrophe before speaking out.
But leaving that aside, what the television cameras also showed us was that this non-goal really wasn’t a goal at all. Indeed yes, the whole of the ball crossed the whole of the line and the official, ideally placed in my opinion, was obviously not sufficiently sure so that he could give a goal. He was, after all, standing with one foot either side of the dead ball line, looking at the frame of the goal along that line. It’s no good arguing, as at least one commentator did, that the post got in the way. That is not only inevitable, but absolutely necessary. So long as the official can see only one post, he must be in the best spot, looking exactly along the line. All he has to do is to wait until he sees the whole of the ball. Then it must have crossed the line. It is, as they say somewhere else, simples!
But what the camera also showed us was that another of the referee’s assistants had made a human error, to use Pierluigi Collina’s explanation, in the immediate build up to the non-goal. There was a missed offside decision, which should have brought the play to a halt a few seconds before John Terry’s attempted intervention. So, on this occasion and completely by accident, two wrongs really did make a right.
Now, while Mr Collina is the first in the refereeing hierarchy to explain that his colleagues are human and thus prone to make mistakes – something the governing bodies of the game have always seemed unwilling to accept – Mr Blatter wants to prevent one form of mistake, but is still not willing even to discuss other forms, such as offside decisions. So FIFA remain behind the times and UEFA perhaps even further away from the 21st century.
I trust all those who read Natter Football without the benefit of living on the M62 corridor and thus enjoying the almost equally great game of Rugby League will forgive what follows. For it is indeed with that mainly northern sport, where there is never an argument with referees and no suggestion that respect for them has been reduced by technology, that football needs to keep up.
Rugby League admitted years ago that sometimes its referees aren’t entirely sure what has happened. So it gave them several extra pairs of eyes to be used at their own discretion. There are no appeals for the video replay, no restricted number of referrals from the players and no arguments about when the extra official is called in. But the Rugby League referee, always of his own volition, can and does ask his colleague up in the stand to have a look at all sorts of possible infringements, sometimes with more than one question to be answered in any single incident. Taking the nearest example to Ukraine’s non-goal, the Rugby League referee could have asked whether the ball had been grounded properly (Was it on the line? Did he have proper control?) and, since it was all in one phase of the game, whether there was an offside in the build up. Once the video ref had seen the first incident, he wouldn’t have even bothered looking at what happened on or near the goal line. Technology used in this way would have produced the fairest of results by correcting the first human error.
But back in Donetsk Mr Blatter’s technology would actually have caused an injustice. Albeit for all the wrong reasons, the right decision was made and no goal was given. But the use of goal-line technology alone, without reference back to the equally plain offside, would have resulted in a goal being wrongly awarded. But that is as far as FIFA wants to go and Mr Platini could yet use his discretion to say that UEFA will not even go that far. In the near future Premier League teams could play to one set of rules in the league and another in European matches.
The fact remains that the top levels of football – FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League and others – rely on television for their vast wealth, but hate television for showing in slow motion and from umpteen different angles the mistakes that officials make. (They seem indifferent to television showing the mistakes players make.) Television would still have shown up the officials’ errors in Donetsk, with or without goal-line technology.
Who knows what would have happened if the non-goal had been given with the aid of goal-line technology? One more goal, as we all convince ourselves England would have scored in South Africa, would have put Ukraine into the quarter-finals and sent England home. And then the outcry would have been that the technology so recently espoused by Mr Blatter was even worse than nothing. Either way, I would still have been arguing, with my Rugby League example at the forefront of the case, for the fullest use of technology rather than the half-hearted introduction that has been dragged out of football’s administrators. Do it properly or don’t do it at all.
By Paul Firth – Bradford City fan
Paul Firth has been a Bradford City fan for more than 50 years. He was in the stand that caught fire on May 11th 1985. In 2005 he wrote ‘Four Minutes to Hell – The Story of the Bradford City Fire’. Copies of the book can be obtained through Amazon or post free directly from Paul at email@example.com Any direct order will include a brief inscription as the purchaser requests and will be signed.