Comment: Keep technology off the pitch - but on the goal-line

Clive Betts: 'Most football fans would agree that technology should not be resisted for its own sake but should be very carefully thought about'.
Clive Betts: 'Most football fans would agree that technology should not be resisted for its own sake but should be very carefully thought about'.

By Clive Betts

Watching football from the stands on Saturday afternoon brings with it the high emotions of elation and despair; the cheers, the praise and the complaints, whether they are directed at your own team, the opposing team or very often the match officials.

Those watching at home now have more opportunities to watch games and many millions of them do. Perhaps the highs and lows of emotion are not quite the same sitting in your arm chair but they still exist, as do the frustration and complaints that go with every football match.

To most football fans, however, the enjoyment (or otherwise) of the 90 minutes of the game itself are then of course extended for the rest of the week as moves are analysed, disallowed goals talked about and in particular the inconsistency, blind prejudice and complete stupidity of the match officials debated at length.


You only have to listen to 606 on a Saturday evening to get a flavour of the debate that rages amongst football fans everywhere.  Indeed, coming from Sheffield I am only too well aware that Radio Sheffield and its legendary reporter, Bob Jackson, hosted the original 606 which still goes locally as 'Praise or Grumble' and it is not too difficult to work out which sentiments tend to predominate, particularly if you support any of the local teams.

Of course the ability to argue at even greater length about the rights and wrongs of decisions has been seriously increased by the number of games that are televised , the endless replays and the extensive analysis.

So what about technology in football and using technology to influence matches as well as record them? Would it really make decisions at the games any better?  Would it really bring greater satisfaction if absolute certainty could be introduced or would it actually take away the great enjoyment that football fans obviously get from the argument and the discussion about the rights and wrongs of decisions on which individual games, cups and championships turn?

There will always be those who are opposed to any change. Presumably people objected when the leather ball was introduced or even goal nets.   I can remember officiating at junior football when not merely did you have, as a referee, to imagine what the linesman would have seen as an off side if he'd been present at all, you also had to be absolutely certain when the ball flashed goal-wards that it had gone between the posts rather than just over the crossbar, as there were no nets behind the goal to catch it.

I think most football fans would agree that technology should not be resisted for its own sake but should be very carefully thought about, particularly if it is going to change the nature of the game itself.

Sports which do use technology extensively, like cricket, American football or rugby, tend to have moments when the game stops and the cameras and video replays can be used without disrupting the flow of the game. That is not true of football, and it is almost impossible to see how cameras could be used to ascertain whether a penalty should have been given, or if an offside was really offside, without having the game stopping and starting or going back several minutes later to check on the video replay. That is not what football is all about. 

Indeed we all know from Match of the Day or other programmes with football analysis that even with replays of incidents taken from several angles there can be a distinct lack of clarity about whether a player really was tripped. Did they fall over trying to evade a tackle, or did they dive? In the end we simply have to recognise that referees and assistant referees will make decisions and sometimes, like players, they will make mistakes.

The one area, however, where there should not be a problem with the game stopping unnecessarily, when there is no need to go back to incidents several minutes ago and when there can actually be certainty about whether a goal is scored, is goal line technology.   Either a ball has gone over the line or it has not and given that other sports have clearly used very similar technology, such as tennis, then one of the most contentious areas where decisions wrongly taken can affect a game - that of whether a ball has actually crossed a line and a goal has been scored - could be properly resolved.

Indeed it is quite amazing that football has taken so long to get to this position. It is relatively simple to do through technology. When there is a crowd of players on the line, or when a shot is taken from distance - such as the goal that Tottenham scored, or didn’t score, at Old Trafford a few years ago - it is virtually impossible for assistant referees or referees to have a proper view of an absolutely crucial incident.

My view therefore is very clear, that I do not see any argument at present that convinces me that technology should be introduced for other elements of the game.   Goal line technology, however, can be introduced. It can improve decision making, it can give a greater fairness in the game without changing the fundamental approach to the game or indeed necessitating technology to be used elsewhere.

I would suggest one further change. Given that in the end referees and assistant referees will have to make decisions, given that sometimes those decisions can be contentious and will not be understood, why do we not allow referee to come out at the end of the game and give an explanation as to why decisions have been made?   Sometimes they may convince us, sometimes they may not.   Sometimes they will have to accept they got a decision wrong, but I do think that would be an improvement which football could well benefit from.

Clive Betts is chair of the all-party parliamentary football group, captains the parliamentary football team and is a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday supporter.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.