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Technology won't put end to ref justice

TEAMtalk guest Michael Graham is a fan of video technology in football but insists it will not deliver the refereeing consistency we all seek.

Last Updated: 03/05/12 at 09:24 Post Comment

Young: Appeals for a penalty

Young: Appeals for a penalty

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Like most football fans, I take a keen interest in another sport or two.

For me, that sport is Ice Hockey. It isn't that dissimilar to football, really, specifically in the sense that goals are at a premium and therefore pivotal moments in games.

Where the sports do differ greatly, however, is that the NHL have embraced technology to the fullest extent. Whilst fans at home are watching the endless replays of goals on television, the match officials are too, meaning that every single goal scored is subject to review before the game can resume.

For the more borderline incidents, the decision is instantly referred to a central office in Toronto where the same people video referee every single game.

But if you are thinking to yourself that such measures must prevent the league from being plagued by the kind of accusations of refereeing inconsistencies that are a frustrating staple of Premier League football, then think again. Different sport, different system, same old problems.

It left me wondering if we are all just kidding ourselves that football can ever genuinely hope to see an end to controversial and widely-contested refereeing decisions.

Granted, there are some decisions, such as Clint Hill's ghost goal at The Reebok this season, that can and should be instantly cleared up once and for all. It is certainly heartening to see goal line technology finally being seriously considered and developed.

But such instances are merely the tip of the iceberg. Consult the official laws of the game and you will find 'the opinion of the referee' or 'in a matter considered by the referee' to be the basis for the vast majority of decisions that are made on a football pitch.

To be offside the officials must first deem you to be active in play. To be guilty of a handball offence the intent of the player and positional context must be evaluated. The question of whether or not a foul has occurred, and if so the severity of it, is subject to an absolute minefield of judgement calls, and so on.

When Ashley Young won a penalty against Aston Villa at Old Trafford earlier this month, the debate raged over the merits of the decision for days without there even being a hint of a unanimous decision being reached. Not just between the fans, either. Players, pundits, journalist and bloggers slogged it out yet never got close to a consensus.

Like for so much of what happens on a football pitch, there simply wasn't a single unequivocal answer. There was just a plethora of possibilities, each with a reasonably valid case to be made for them, and each with at least a sprinkling of support somewhere or another. How is consistency even possible amidst a veritable sea of conjecture?

That is just one example but it is a pattern that tends to be endlessly repeated up and down the country on a weekly basis. This week it was handball appeals at The Hawthorns. The week before that a foul at Loftus Road that led to the game's only goal. Next week, who knows.

We pour over numerous replays of the action - often doubting or changing our own initial conclusions depending on the view from a different angle - debating with friends and colleagues, and then collectively judge a referee for a decision based upon a single viewing. At times our own passions and biases come into it too. It all just seems so shamelessly self-indulgent.

The truth is that the essence of football's widespread appeal - its ability to provoke opinion and debate in all it touches - is also what fuels the fallacy that refereeing standards are poor. It is also what ensures that the fabled 'refereeing consistency' will always remain football's mythical holy grail.

Ultimately, referees are simply in the same boat as the rest of us. Just people watching some football and forming opinions. The only actual difference is that their opinions matter.

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