Jun 2, 2016
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Does Premier League evidence encourage this integral change to football?

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Whether you lose 1-0 or 4-0, there is almost always one team we love to blame for our defeat on the field of play and it is not our own, it is the team of officials. In the Premier League, the men in black have to face the wrath of the players, the coaches, the fans and the football pundit from minute one, to perhaps the following weekend, maybe even longer.

Being an official is without question the toughest job in football, trying to give 110% at all times but receiving little-to-no praise back from anyone other than their fellow officiating peers. The best officials in the game are the ones that are not noticed, the ones that are not talked about, but as the premier league is quickly becoming one of the biggest sports industries in the world, it is almost impossible not to discuss those who police our wonderful game.

The 2015/16 football season was largely a successful year for match officials in England. Mark Clattenburg and his English team of officials; Simon Beck, Jake Collin, Andre Marriner and Anthony Taylor officiated the recent Champions League final, a proud moment for English football.

Whilst back home, a good barometer for the success of an officiating year is how many cautions or dismissals were issued over a season and the 15/16 Premier League season saw a drop of almost 200 cards compared to the prior 14/15 season. Mike Dean led the way with 9 dismissals in the top flight, however, he also officiated the most premier league games this season with 33 under his jurisdiction. Despite the drop in cards shown, however, officials yet again came under scrutiny for large parts of the season. So what can be done to eradicate our love to hate officials?

In short, officials will never not be hated. Football is a working class game and such as the culture of the working class, we will never truly like someone with power or authority over us. The team of officials has the power to completely change the course of a game by one decision, and this burden of responsibility will never quite be accepted by the fans not matter how much we like to lie and say it is. One thing that the world of football sometimes struggles to understand is that the officials are human, they can and will make mistakes.

A good midfielder completes around 85% of passes or above in a game, a sports pundit will discuss how good the 85% of passes were, however, if an official gets 85% of decisions right, we will discuss the 15% of incorrect decisions which is the sad difference. Contrary to many football fans views, officials are impartial and objective to the best of their ability, any mistakes made, are genuine mistakes. To avoid these mistakes many things have been suggested, and poised to be tested is video technology, but will it work?

Most of the successful sports in the world use some form of video technology. In a lot of sports such as cricket, tennis, baseball and American football, a challenge is given to the coaches or competitor of each respective team and can be used during the game to challenge an official decision. In rugby, the ability is given to the referee to challenge one of his own decisions or to ‘check’ a scoring drive. With all due respect to the sports mentioned but with debatable exception to American football and the NFL-our game is more successful and richer than every game mentioned so why is there no video technology in our game?

It can be argued that our game is too fast pace. In sports such as the NFL and baseball, there can be pauses of well over 15 seconds between plays or high-intense sports action. In football, other than for injuries, fouls awarded or goals scored, there are few extensive stoppages in play. However, that argument is so weak. Two of the three stoppages just mentioned are what we want to be checked in our game. Is the awarding of a foul a correct decision? Is that goal correct/incorrect to stand?

The biggest mistakes made by officials are that of offside decisions and when you break down an offside decision you can understand why. The assistant has to: be in line with the second last defender, recognise the attacker in an offside position, make a judgement on whether the attacker is making a move towards ball which influences the game, recognise who played the ball, judge if the ball was played forward and all in the space of about 0.2 seconds. Now sometimes, officials can get the easy ones wrong, such as from a dead ball situation. Examples of this, this season could be Aguero’s 100th Premier league goal against Newcastle. Aguero, from a dead ball situation, appeared to be in an offside position. In my opinion, there are little to no excuses for an assistant to make an incorrect offside judgement from a dead ball situation unless there has been a deflection, which in the Aguero situation, there was not.

However, to suggest as some do that the official made this mistake in a deliberate fashion, to me, is an embarrassing misrepresentation of the truth. All that is required by an incorrect offside decision would be a simple stoppage for the 4th official or even an official outside the ground to view replays of the goal. In the example of Aguero’s goal, the stoppage could be during his celebration. A simple review of the goal which we were all forced to watch four or five times at home would be all that is required to make the correct call and award an indirect free-kick to Newcastle. That goal could’ve robbed Newcastle-who were leading at the time of two points. Newcastle United would go on to be relegated to the Championship after finishing inside the relegation positions by two points. I am not in any way suggesting that this decision relegated Newcastle as there were ample games after this for Newcastle to survive, however, this illustrates the importance of an official’s decision in football.

Video technology should be used in football for key decisions, however, I do not believe all decisions should be reviewed. Free-kicks, throw-ins, cautions should all be under the jurisdiction of the official without review, however, I would argue that controversial goals, penalties, and dismissals should always be reviewed, the only difficulty is trying to determine a ‘controversial goal’. However, I do not see the harm with reviewing every goal scored to make sure nothing unlawful occurred during the incident. There is an average of around 69 seconds between a goal being scored and the following kick off so during that time, where is the harm in an official-perhaps a TV official such as in rugby and cricket-reviewing a few replays?

As a football official myself, for so long I had disagreed that video technology should not be a part of football. In sports all over the world, mistakes are still made even with the use of video technology. There will always be mistakes from officials in sports, however, these mistakes are lessened with the use of a replay system. There are too many finances within the elites of football, in particular in the Premier League to not improve our game by making video technology a reality and gifting an even fairer level playing field. No matter how much dissent we show towards officials we ultimately want them to make the correct decision. Every football fan has witnessed their team get unfairly treated by an honest mistake from a football official. Video technology would minimise those mistakes.

Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Abay Otar.

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Video Technology

Aspiring sports journalist and currently a 4th year undergraduate to a Broadcast Journalism Honours degree. Avid sports fan, particularly football where I am a full licensed semi-professional official.

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