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.
Is video technology more necessary than ever after this Manchester City incident?
The twinned behemoths of Premier League and Champions League football continue to cast an ever increasing shadow over domestic cup competitions. That said, last week’s League Cup semi-final second legs offered up two of the most engrossing games of the season, with both ties in the balance throughout. In some respects, the League Cup has emerged as a more entertaining spectacle than it’s illustrious sibling the FA Cup. The fact that League Cup ties take place in mid-week, thus commanding the footballing public’s full attention, helps enormously in this regard. The FA Cup takes up weekend air time that would otherwise be devoted to the Premier League, resulting in the sense that the competition is ‘getting in the way’ of the weekly fare we usually tuck into.
Nor does the League Cup suffer from any delusions of grandeur, or more accurately lost grandeur, in the way that the FA Cup does, where hollow advertising constantly reminds us of the competition’s ‘magic’ and insists that ‘anything can happen’. Those behind the promotion of the League Cup are fully aware that it is a distant fourth on the list of trophies our biggest clubs can win, and therefore the competition doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t. The result is a fun, if fairly inconsequential, tournament that produces a lot of entertaining matches; it is domestic football’s version of Twenty20 cricket in a sense.
The key incident in Manchester City’s 3-1 second leg victory over Everton was the failure of the officials to spot that Raheem Sterling had run the ball out of play in the build up to City’s second goal. The goal should not have stood, but when one takes into account the positioning of the referee and linesman, along with the speed at which the incident took place, it wasn’t an officiating howler in any sense. Predictably, discussion of the decision in the days that followed focused upon the role of technology in football, and whether the game should make more use of technology in order to arrive at correct decisions. Like braying sheep, commentators, pundits and fans nodded along in an agreement that greater use of technology, and therefore more correct decisions, would be a good thing. It struck me that none of these people seemed aware of the logical and probable consequences of their position.
The introduction of goal line technology has been an unequivocally positive step. The use of technology suits this type of incident because the decision is a categoric one; the ball was either fully over the line, or it wasn’t. There is no room for interpretation, and the technology provides an inarguable outcome immediately. The anger of Roberto Martinez and all of those associated with Everton is understandable; if technology can be used to decide whether or not the ball was over the goal line, surely it should be used to decide whether or not the ball was over the by-line? Though incidents of this type are rare, there is a strong case for extending Hawkeye technology beyond the boundaries of the posts. Touchline Technology, perhaps.
It is those who argue that video technology should be used to challenge other decisions who are deserving of scrutiny. The essential problem with their vision is this: football is not a game of rules, it is a game of laws. Wherever there is a law, somebody must be given the power to interpret the law and enforce it appropriately. This power lies with judges in the ‘real world’; in football it lies with the referee. In order to give referees the freedom to referee matches according their own intuition and ‘common sense’, the laws and directives that they follow are stacked full of subjective language. For example, ‘sufficient contact’ in the case of penalty incidents or ‘excessive force’ in the case of dangerous tackles. No technology in the world is capable of objectively deciding what constitutes ‘sufficient’ contact or ‘excessive’ force.
Ten minutes in front of a television screen this weekend will demonstrate this problem to you. Every few weeks there is a contentious penalty decision that completely divides a panel of three TV pundits, armed with innumerable replays from various angles; one will say it was a definite penalty, the second will say it definitely was not and the third will say it was a 50/50 decision (‘It’s one of those, for me Clive’). Technology simply isn’t capable of deciding what is and isn’t a penalty in all cases; it merely transfers power from the on-field referee to an off-field referee and leaves the outcome down to his interpretation. Simply put, it introduces a greater chance of human error in an effort to resolve the problem of human error.
Offside decisions ought to be far more categoric; the player in question is either offside or he is not. However, one knows from experience that these type of incidents can lead to disagreements between people who have seen exactly the same footage. Especially contentious are the offside decisions that centre upon a player ‘interfering with play’, such as a forward standing in front of a goalkeeper as a long range shot flies past him. Once again, following a change in the rules this year, the language that dictates how such incidents should be handled is subjective. To deemed to be ‘interfering with play’ the attacker must make a ‘clear attempt’ to play the ball and this action must impact on the actions of the opponent. This change is a positive one in practice, but still depends on human interpretation to be enforced and cannot be solved by technology alone.
If some sort of review system was introduced to examine offside decisions, one also has to consider how this would impact on crowd behaviour. The greatest thing in football, for fans, players and managers, is the explosion of spontaneous joy that comes with scoring a goal. Unlike Rugby Union, where points are added to the scoreboard fairly regularly, goals in football are extremely rare and because of their scarcity, each goal has massive influence in deciding the outcome of the match. This is why they are celebrated so vociferously. Taking a wicket in Test match cricket might be analogous, but even then, to win a Test match a team must take 20 of them.
No other sport that employs video technology possesses a comparable moment of ecstasy. To take this away from football would be to suck the very soul out of the game and emaciate the whole experience of attending a match. What a depressing day it would be, when 76,000 people at Old Trafford hesitate after the ball hits the net; having to crane their necks towards a big screen to see if they should celebrate or not. To me, this image represents a form of dystopia.
Finally, aside from all of the practical considerations, the use of technology raises important philosophical questions regarding what we think football should be about. Advocates of more technology often claim that is ‘important’ to get decisions right. On first listen, this sounds fair enough. Consider however, their point a little more deeply. Just how important really is it? Surely it’s more important to preserve the aspects of football that make it the greatest game in the world: it’s flowing pace, its spontaneity, its tribalism, its randomness and all of the controversy it throws up. Poor refereeing decisions are part of that rich tapestry. Crowd behaviour and the matchday experience have already become far more stage managed and choreographed in recent decades, we could well do without this going any further.
Refereeing decisions that go against your team can be extremely annoying, I do not seek to deny that. As you walk home from the stadium, feeling a burning sense of ‘injustice’, it is tempting to point out that video technology could have corrected the perceived wrong that so aggrieves you. Take a step back however, and what has it really cost you? A football result hasn’t gone in your favour; nobody has died, and there is a fair chance that next week your team could benefit from an officiating error. Court rooms, war zones and hospitals are scenes of ‘injustice’, not football stadiums (typically). Is it really anathema to suggest that refereeing mistakes and contentious decisions are part of the game, and that we ought to be grown up enough to accept this salient fact?
It is difficult to find such perspective in the emotional post-match aftermath, but our footballing culture would be much improved it were applied. Suspect those who want to dramatically reduce the game we love in the name of ‘fairness’ or ‘justice’.
Featured image: All rights reserved by thomas richards.
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