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Video Kills The Referee ‘Star’ - Given Half A Chance

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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Rumour has it that video technology is not too far away from establishing itself in the wealthiest leagues, to the extent that a ‘robo-ref’ may soon be in the stand using a monitor to help the on-pitch official make his decisions. Well, maybe not so much rumour, but influential chit-chat between the likes of Mike Riley, the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMO) and his new sidekick, ex-referee Howard Webb. Here’s a couple of quotes from these scrupulously fair and totally unbiased ’influential figures’ just to start those cameras rolling…


“I do“ said Riley solemnly when asked if he thought VT was close, not that he wanted to marry it or anything, though he did warm to the topic sufficiently to add, informatively “Technology evolves all the time and there will be ways we can help referees on the field of play by using technology.â€


Likewise Webb, the new technical director of PGMO, who offered these words of wisdom speaking on behalf of his fellow World Cup referees, “They would all hold a similar view to myself (no, really?): they will keep an open mind to it and anything that will make the job easier and make us more accurate will be worthwhile being looked at. But we really need to be careful not to change the high intensity and fast flowing that makes football such a good spectacle that people enjoy to watch.


I’m not anti anything that would make my life as a referee more easy and more credible. Practically it is going to be really difficult to implement. There will be some situations it will lend itself to such as Chelsea-Arsenal with the incorrect identification.â€


And here endeth the first lesson given by Howard to the Enthusians, as he rather limply reins us all in from our immediate, hope-filled belief that VT, in its most radical form, might revolutionise refereeing completely, given full support on all contentious decisions, or at least those game-changing ones that belie the evidence of thousands [of pairs of eyes] each week when they are incorrectly made by one individual with a whistle, or by either of his two assistants. Notice how quickly Webb turns to the one and only recent, blatant example of mistaken identity (by Andre Marriner when he wrongly sent off Kieran Gibbs) instead of homing in on a whole host of bizarre decisions made during last season’s, quite frankly abject, Premiership officiating.


Of course, his reason for doing so is obvious, as obvious as the error made and as non-contentious as it gets, when compared with other hotly-disputed decisions of game-changing significance. Lest we forget, Chelsea had already put the Gunners to the sword by the time this incident occurred and the only ’worthwhile’ aspect of having the decision rectified by VT would have been to save us from Wenger’s post-match effrontery and deflated the media’s usual ’controversial circumstance’, which is always grasped upon when we win handsomely. Indeed, opinion has it that video evidence can only truly benefit the game if coaches are allowed to call for it [two or three] times in a game in order to overturn a perceived massive injustice, examples of which abound most weeks in the Premiership.


The important point to be made here is that, if it had been necessary for Arsene Wenger to use [waste] a video ‘referral’ to rescind the Kieran Gibbs decision, he might well have declined the offer, not because he didn’t see it or wasn’t made aware of it, but because there could easily be a far better time to use the trump card later in the game. This sobering thought alone highlights a poor selection of example on Webb’s part and, in sharp contrast, referrals of a far more controversial [game-changing] kind would put the spotlight on the honesty of players concerned instantly, rather than allowing them to ’repent at leisure’ and take advantage of all the paraphernalia that goes with delay and subsequent conivance - Suarez bites anybody? - yes he does, but no official seems to see one of these in real time and this is exactly the sort of incident Webb should have highlighted instead of scuttling off to the safe haven of a bog standard mistaken identity issue.


Next Saturday [allegedly] a hands-on Howard Webb, along with another former referee Dermot Gallagher, will be in the BBC studios in Salford facing a bank of monitors, the aim being to watch all the Premiership games, then clarify points of law to broadcasting partners Sky and BT, with statements being issued to the media generally explaining any controversial decisions. Surely this is as close as the PGMO has ever got to direct assistance to a match referee, albeit none of them will know the extent of the interference or the extent of criticism levied. How much of all this we are likely to either hear about or see on our screens is not yet known, but I’m guessing, if Webb’s first tentative toe-dipping into its muddy waters is anything to go by, proceedings will all be heavily overlain in professional understanding of ’difficult situations’, the outright condemnation of a poor decision affecting the outcome of a match being conspicuous by its absence, or hastily shrouded in mist, otherwise known as ’open to interpretation’ fug.


Still, let’s not be too curmudgeonly, for the whole procedure has to be a step in the right direction and anything that contributes to the demise of flashy, eye-catching officialdom must be good for the game. Whilst Riley’s reputation on the field of play will forever taint his PGMO stint in office, Webb has the opportunity to innovate his way into the hearts of all football fans by driving this VT initiative through to a worthwhile conclusion. Then again, do we really have any cause for optimism, or will he, like those who have gone before, simply wave the current state of play on?


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90 minutes will be turned into a 2.5 hour marathon as the referees prance around the pitch throwing the 'hanky' to the ground for any infractions, while the now entourage of touchline video judges, aka retired referees, will be mulling over the call all the while waiting for the manager to appeal the decision then it will have to go 'upstairs' for a decision of the reviewed decision.....yes welcome to EPL America and after the success of the World Cup we all know what's going to happen the 'the beautiful game' it will become a technological nightmare.  What will happen with controversial decisions, and the good old fashion heated argument over a pint at the end of the game? What will be left to argue and digest about the refereeing decisions?  After all who could argue with a video camera..it never lies.  There will be a sea of red and yellow cards as every crunching tackle is reviewed followed by an experts opinion of how the ref should have handled the call.......no for me lets keep to the old fashion way of doing things, watching the managers griping and moaning after the game about bad decisions, players and managers being suspended and fined for calling the ref a useless twat...and Arsene cringing and wiping the snot from his nose...love it, so lets keep it...

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  • 4 weeks later...

Not sure if it is legal to ‘bump’ your own topic, but I’m going to in this instance because I never thought I would find myself siding with Sepp Blatter on any football-related matter and it seems we are in complete agreement on this issue. Here are some recent pearls of wisdom from the Fifa President given in evidence….

“We could test such challenge calls. The next step I will propose to the international board to try and bring this so-called ‘call’ that the coaches or team managers have the right in the half, twice or once, to have a call to challenge a refereeing decision but only when the game has stopped. Then there must be a monitor by the television company, then the referee and coach look at it and the referee may then change his mind as is the case in tennis, for instance.

I hope to bring it to the attention and hopefully we can find a league, semi-professional or professional, that will try to do it. It can only be done where there is television coverage of all the matches, or in one of Fifa’s competitions, a youth competition in Fifa, an Under-20 like next year we are in New Zealand so we could test such a ‘challenge calls’.â€

Sepp Blatter, 8th September, 2014.

Rest assured, I’m not getting too carried away, as I suspect our motives are poles apart, with the Fifa President having portrayed himself as a champion of technology ever since Frank provided irrefutable proof at the World Cup against Germany, whilst in my case it’s more of a continual quest for truth, sought from those players deliberately trying to deceive, or from referees all too eagerly hiding behind a two-ways-of-looking-at-it interpretation of those very actions. For this reason alone, a simple, speedy, straightforward system would like as not be the most successful, and, in order to facilitate this process, ‘challenge calls’ by managers should, for me, be limited to only two, each side of a full ninety minutes.

Correct calls would be recoverable, failures not so, for they would undoubtedly be regarded as exactly what they are - nuisance calls that should never have been made in the first place - but more on this later. Firstly, a managerial brief for making calls would have to be put in place and, in keeping with the brevity theme, I would propose consideration of the following two-point defence/attack blueprint:-

1. Consider a critical [on edge of, or inside the box] tackle is made and a free kick or penalty is awarded by the referee, one which a manager totally disagrees with because [he perceives] no contact was made, or the ball was played [legally] by the defender, or the attacker committed a foul himself, for instance handball or receiving the initial pass coming back from an offside position. In the subsequent gap in play the manager must then assess the importance of the incident and, deciding that the penalty is undeserved, or the free kick is too dangerous to wrongfully concede, a challenge is made.

2. Moving on to the reverse situation, where a manager challenges on behalf of an attacker who is tripped [on edge of, or inside the box] and no foul is given, or coming into or within the box at a corner when a clear infringement occurs, such as handball or the player is held or impeded - with the aim of rightfully [he perceives] obtaining a penalty, even a sending-off, if a debatable ’last man’ situation arises. I’d contend that the availability of a ‘call’ for the manager of a team that’s a goal down, gets a last minute corner, and his main striker is manhandled, well, he’s bound to want a review and might easily be proved fully justified in doing so. Conversely, his opposite number would be praying his players don’t do anything stupid, which [in this new environment] would take the referee’s habit [of never giving any fouls against defenders in this situation] right out of the equation.

With the emphasis and onus being on the manager’s judgement throughout, I suspect that players in general will think twice when it comes to feigning injuries (just in case they con their own boss into challenging for a sending-off) or theatrical diving followed by vigorous appeals for free-kicks and penalties (just in case their own boss hasn’t got a decent view of either and simply trusts his player’s honesty). Imagine a challenge being made in any of these circumstances and, after the clearest of reviews, having to cede a last minute penalty purely as a result of what amounted to blatant cheating. Indeed, controversy such as this could only be avoided by cutting out the feigning of injury altogether, thereby reducing frivolous appeals at a stroke - what’s not to like about that outcome?


Somewhat ironically, taking the plunge on this issue could also eliminate the dive once and for all, as in innocuous situations, where divers still plead for fouls or continue to roll around in agony, the question can be asked by the fourth official when time drags on or pleas continue to be made - do you want to challenge? Moreover, if the only argument (on behalf of maintaining the status quo) boils down to criticising the time all these challenges will take, it is one hardly worth making when compared to the time wasting that currently exists over the full ninety minutes. If anything, I’m actually predicting that play will speed up as the ’honesty factor’ filters through to all concerned.

So, as you can see, I’m sold on this idea and believe it will ultimately improve the game as we now know it - riddled with deceit, frustrating and intensely annoying on occasions. But that’s enough about Blatter, let’s forget he’s a supporter and judge ‘the challenge’ on its own merits.


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