Poor refereeing mistakes decided the Premiership title in 09-10, with costly decisions in the Manchester United vs Chelsea games handing the eventual champions points they wouldn’t have otherwise got. With United finishing just one point off the top, they would have been crowned champions had the referee been able to use technology to make his decision.
Bad decisions happen every week but it is the decisions that go against you against your biggest rivals, in the “six pointers”, which make the most difference.
At Stamford Bridge, United dominated Chelsea, but ended up losing 1-0 thanks to a John Terry goal. The freekick was awarded when Darren Fletcher cleanly won the ball from Ashley Cole, Wes Brown was being fouled in the box when the cross came in and Didier Drogba, who was interfering with play, was offside. Down at the other end, Wayne Rooney had been incorrectly flagged offside when one on one with Petr Cech as well as the referee waving away a stonewall penalty for Antonio Valencia.
Oliver Kay, The Times: They [United] had been the more assertive team throughout, defending diligently and attacking with purpose when the opportunity arose, and would surely have claimed something from the game, quite possibly a victory, had not the two big refereeing decisions gone in Chelsea’s favour.
Had the match ended goalless, Martin Atkinson, the referee, would have ended up with a stern rebuke from Ferguson for refusing to award United a penalty in the fourteenth minute, when Antonio Valencia tumbled after appearing to be impeded by Terry. As it was, the United manager was left in a fury, deeply unhappy both with Atkinson’s award of a free kick, for what looked like a fair tackle by Darren Fletcher on Ashley Cole, and with the manner that Wes Brown was obstructed by Didier Drogba when the ball was whipped in from the left-hand side by Lampard.
The game was transformed when Fletcher was penalised for his challenge on Ashley Cole. As Lampard swung in the free kick, Terry and Anelka attacked the ball with greater conviction than any of United’s defenders, although Brown had an excuse, having been felled, deliberately or otherwise, by Drogba.
The Guardian minute-by-minute: Wayne Rooney is played in and the flag goes up, with the striker entirely on his own and clean through, 30 yards from the nearest outfield player and 20 yards from goal. But Ashley Cole, on the near side, is clearly playing him onside. Bad – and crucial – decision.
At Old Trafford, with the score 1-0 and United in the ascendency, Chelsea went 2-0 up thanks to a goal scored by Drogba, who had received the ball in an offside position.
Mistakes of the referee will continue to decide titles, relegations and cup knock-out until technology is introduced to the game. It is embarrassing that a sport worth so much money all over the world is in the dark ages where this is concerned, miles behind the likes of tennis, rugby and cricket.
Pathetic arguments like “fans like to debate about decisions in the game” hold no weight with me. As a fan, I would rather the right team won, whether that was United or otherwise, than the team that got lucky with the ref. Sir Alex Ferguson has often talked about the luck needed to be successful, but that should stand within the laws of the game, not the inability of humans to make the correct decision. It should be one team against another, one player against another, with the referee making the game run smoothly, not influencing the result.
I watched Frank Lampard’s effort crash down over the line, less than a minute after England drew level against Germany, and like everyone else saw that the ball had clearly crossed the line. Decisions like that shouldn’t be an issue for technology but the failure to award that goal gives us a great argument. If linesmen and referees can miss such blatant decisions like that, and Carlos Tevez’s goal from an offside position against Mexico the following day, then what faith are fans and players and managers supposed to have in officials getting the tricky decisions right?
England went on to lose 4-1, Mexico went on to lose 3-1, but there’s no way you can account for what impact those goals had on the overall game. Whilst Germany were by far a better team in the second half, it is impossible to know how the second half could have panned out if the score was level at 2-2 and England weren’t throwing all their players forward to get an equaliser. How would the mentality of Germany been effected had they surrendered their 2-0 lead so quickly and easily? Equally, Salcido had hit the woodwork for Mexico and Guardado had been inches wide of the post before Argentina scored, so who knows what might have happened had it rightly remained 0-0 and Mexico were the ones to open the scoring?
It’s all ifs and buts, and it is these debates that Sepp Blatter uses as a reasons not to introduce technology, as if arguing the toss over decisions is justification to see the wrong team knocked out of the cup, win the league or get relegated!
Whilst the referee is always the target of our frustration it is quite refreshing to consider that however much of a wanker we believe him to be at the time, chances are he genuinely was trying to make the right decision. He may appear blind to us, given that we can see the foul/handball/goal/corner from the stands, but he is only human, and like the rest of us, capable of making mistakes.
England’s own representative referee in this summer’s World Cup, Howard Webb, has welcomed technology to the game today.
“I’m open minded about anything that makes us more credible as match officials,” he said. “Whatever tools I am given I will use them to the best of my ability, and I will use all the experience I have to try to come to the correct decisions.”
We’ve all heard plenty of debate on this recently and Gary Lineker has voiced the opinion I have agreed with for some time. The biggest argument against using technology is the notion that it will slow the game down. Yes, more than the idiot who tries to hide the ball up his jumper when it’s kicked in to the crowd. Yes, more than the cheat rolling around on the floor when he hasn’t been touched. Yes, more than the goalkeeper taking long, slow strides back away from the ball in preparation for a goal kick when his team are protecting a narrow lead with not a lot of time left to play.
However, if each team is allowed to challenge just three incidents a match, whether that be goal line, a foul in the box or even an offside decision, then that will add hardly any time to the game. The replays of major incidents are up on the screens within seconds of them occurring and more often than not a quick decision can be made. Did the ball cross the line? Yes it did. Was the player offside when he scored? Yes he was. Did the defender take the striker’s legs away from him? Yes he did. The Mexican players had seen the replay of Tevez’s goal on the big screens before they had even got back to the centre of the pitch for the restart!
“I have expressed to them apologies and I understand they are not happy and that people are criticising,” said Blatter of the English and Mexican FAs. “We will naturally take on board the discussion on technology and have first opportunity in July at the business meeting.”
Will anything come of those discussions? It’s hard to imagine that whilst Blatter is still in charge of FIFA that anything will be changed, with him yesterday admitting he “deplored” the idea of technology in football.
However, with so much at stake in football, by which I mean the feelings of the fans, the effort of the players, the hard work of the manager, as well as the money, it’s ridiculous to think it is left down to chance.
To give a very real example, take a look at Sheffield United in the 2006-2007 season, with them finishing on the same points as Wigan and one point behind Fulham. They were relegated because their goal difference was just one goal worse off than Wigan’s. They haven’t returned to the top flight since. But a place in the Premiership is said to be worth £90m to a club and Sheffield United were literally one goal away from securing that. Are you telling me that all the decisions evened out that season? That over 38 games, there wasn’t one more goal, offside call or penalty decision in Wigan’s favour? It is these small decisions that define the result and therefore the success of a club. The fate of football clubs, particularly in this day and age when the likes of Leeds and Pompey are going under, is dependent on them getting the result they’ve played for, not the result given to them by the referee.
I would like to think that I can one day laugh with my children and grandchildren about how I watched football in an age without video technology, the same way I’ve laughed with my parents over them growing up without a television or telephone, but if Blatter remains in charge of FIFA, you have to wonder which generation will finally get to welcome the technological advancements football fans and clubs deserve.
“Let it be as it is and let’s leave football with errors,” Blatter said in 2008. No, please, let’s not.
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