Another round of weekend games. Another gluttony of goals. Another endless source of disappointment aimed at officials and cries for technology. Most notably this week, were two decisions; firstly at The Etihad Stadium, where Ashley Young was flagged off-side scoring what he thought was United’s third goal in the Manchester Derby and second, Santi Cazorla’s blatant dive for Arsenal against West Brom earning a much needed penalty against a resilient Baggies defense.
And much like the proverbial Pavlovian Dog, it rang an imaginary bell.
Pundits, managers, fans on Twitter, blogs, football phone-in shows all wag their tails, and bark long and hard about how the game needs to adapt when there is so much at stake. Debate continues to rage about the need for goal-line technology, video replays and an ability to throw to a video ref in lieu of human error or marginal calls.
I disagree (to a certain extent).
Let me explain, because I would like to open a debate about this here on the page, to which I will check and reply to those who raise their concerns because I believe some of you may feel the same way I do, and others will have an interesting alternative.
When I think of England’s luck, and hard luck stories, this is what instantly springs to mind; Geoff Hurst’s goal in ’66, Maradona’s “hand of God” in’86 and most recently, Lampard’s goal against Germany in 2010.
Hurst’s goal is as much a part of football folklore in our country as anything else and remains a contentious talking point. But sandwiched into his hat trick in the World Cup Final, do you remember the names of the other three goal scorers that day? The diminutive Argentine will always be associated with his act of – shall we say – creativeness, but do you remember who scored England’s consolation in Mexico?
We could revisit Bloemfontein, the thunderous crossbar destroyer by Frank Jr, but I’d rather not. More importantly, these moments are as intrinsic to the fabric of the game as anything else, they are part of the bonding between fans alike, the unwritten stories that bind your love for the game.
Of course, I am sure some of you will have been reading this and uttered “Peters, Haller and Weber” or “Lineker scored” and I will be calling you all up for my next pub quiz, but the majority will probably only remember those key controversial moments. And to that end, whether we admit it or not, we are as obsessed about recanting the errors, as we are about the legitimate.
Those who by now think I may be crazy, consider this. Do any of those games offer nearly as much discussion, debate or intrigue if they had been decided by modern technology? Half the story has disappeared because you’ve removed what makes the game so very close to perfect. Human error.
You can cite Rugby or Cricket as an example (sports I think have benefited from such advancements), but the natural ebb and flow of those games allows for the intrusion and delay.
In 1997, David Elleray took the time to re-watch the 1970 FA Cup Final Replay between Leeds and Chelsea (one of the most notoriously rough games ever to be played) and “refereed” by modern standards. He would have issued twenty yellows and sent six players off for early baths. Originally on the day, Eric Jennings issued just one card, a yellow to Ian Hutchinson.
In the midst of all advancements, there is a tendency to forget what has been lost from before, and a failure to reach a happy medium, a robust way of saying “all or nothing” when sometimes all that is needed is a tweak. Most would agree our game is better for more stringent protection of players, but we miss the physicality of the years gone by.
Similarly, I don’t believe an official behind the goal is a solution (sometimes I think that they forget that they are even there), and the recent exercise in Italy where they employed two referees for each half of the pitch ended in farce. Similarly, I do not believe we need to shift to GoalRef, hawk-eye, a television ref, a ball with sensors or any other additional robotic aid.
A great footballing philosophy has always been that things even themselves out over a season, or over the greater course. A lost penalty here, a gained penalty there. And when there is a wrong call, does it deter us from continuing to follow the game? Do we refuse to turn up again next week?
My fear is that Football could end up being as disjointed as American Football. Teams having a number of referrals, abused by a winning side to simply break up the momentum of play in the same vein substitutions have since they were introduced and then increased to three.
There has to be a happy medium that stays within the game and does not interrupt the flow. But most importantly, I want to be able to talk about the controversies I’ve witnessed the moment it happens, the next day, week and year. I know some of you will disagree and I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts, but I hope I’ve reminded you of how perfectly imperfect our beautiful game is.
Elliott Bambrough is a British TV host & voice over artist based in the US, a lifelong Arsenal supporter and football fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter @E2TheBam where he is always up for any and all types of football chat.