Another weekend, another call for technology to be introduced into real-time decision-making in football.
On Sunday, Chelsea, 1-0 up in the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs, were awarded a goal for an attempt that did not cross the line. The list of similar incidents that have stoked the calls for goal-line technology can go on for a very long time. Pedro Mendes’ long-range effort against Manchester United. Frank Lampard’s would-have-been-equaliser for England in their 2010 World Cup quarter-final against Germany. Countless more.
I should say from the offset that I think it is time to introduce goal-line technology. The type that will simply send a signal to the officials when the ball crosses the goal-line.
But while fans’ calls for technology grow, a note of caution should be sounded. If and when this technology is introduced, the sport of football changes for good.
Because despite the fact that there are small differences, football is essentially the same whether it is played at Old Trafford, Hackney Marshes or Barry Sports Centre.
Yes, you may only get one referee for Sunday league games. He or she may be overweight, slow and very possibly drunk. If you’re lucky you’ll get some referee’s assistants to run the lines too. You almost certainly won’t get a fourth official to hold up the number of injury time minutes to be played. But in practice, the game is essentially the same. Decisions are made based on what a human being has seen and are often down to a human interpretation of events in real-time. And those of us who try valiantly to perform like our heroes with our hangovers, cobbled-together kits and extra padding around the waist know that there is nothing more we could ask for when refereeing decisions get made, save for a better version of that referee. That isn’t the same for tennis, rugby union, cricket, rugby league, American football; all great sports with passionate fans and lots of participation at lower levels. But all, I think, ever-so-slightly different from football because technology is used to make in-game decisions. The moment an under-13’s striker thinks, “If we had that sensor on the goal-line...” this changes.
It is what contributes to the special feeling of passion that you’ll see in the tackles and goal celebrations, and hear in a cacophony of profanities if you go and watch any organised game of football in the country. There may only be one man and his dog watching, there may be glass on the pitch and no corner flags, but to the players it is all that matters for 90 minutes. And it connects them directly to the level of the sport that they follow just as passionately as fans. When we play on a Saturday or Sunday, we feel part of a sporting community where our heroes fight in exactly the same way and under exactly the same rules and conditions.
To me, football is different to other sports simply because a 7-year-old playing on a wet Saturday morning connects straight to Cristiano Ronaldo because they are essentially doing exactly the same thing.
Technology will change this.
This is not a technical argument. It is an argument about the heart of football. And I’m no Luddite. I know the time has come for goal-line technology. But when it does come, I can’t pretend it won’t be tinged with a hint of sadness that it won’t just be my lack of pace that separates me from Lionel Messi.
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