Tuesday 11 March ~
Everyone has their own ideas about how to improve football. Jimmy Hill used to pop up every five minutes with suggestions, from making the goals bigger to reducing the number of players on the pitch to awarding bonus points for away wins. In recent times the one proposal that has met with the most widespread approval is for the installation of goal-line cameras. Every season there are goals either wrongly given or wrongly disallowed because the referee and his assistants misjudged the bounce of the ball. The football authorities in the UK have been lobbying for the introduction of such technology. But now it seems as though their efforts have been in vain.
The Premier League and the FA were fully expecting FIFA to back cameras-in-goals at a meeting of the International Board last weekend. Instead the Board voted to suspend trials and approved a suggestion by UEFA president Michel Platini for two additional referees, one behind each goal. Fantastically, this prompted Sir Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League, to accost Platini after the meeting to tell him that he was “killing football”. If only there had been a camera picking that up. The FA chairman Brian Barwick, who increasingly resembles the sort of plodding London police inspector habitually outsmarted by Sherlock Holmes, was equally stunned by the news. The Premier League apparently invested hundreds of thousand of pounds in the camera-based system developed by Hawk-Eye, which has been tried out in Reading youth team games with six cameras fitted inside each goal. Similar devices are already in use in several other sports.
Sir Dave Richards described himself as being both “furious” and “gutted” by what may now turn out to have been a waste of money. As a general rule, however, it's best to be suspicious of anything that meets with the approval of Sir Dave who became PL chairman in 1999 and was preposterously knighted two years later for his role in enabling wealthy football club to enrich themselves further. After all, most of the money spent by the majority of Premier League clubs at present could be adjudged to have been “wasted”, as anyone who watched Middlesbrough's expensively assembled team capitulate in the Cup on Sunday could confirm.
It has been suggested that FIFA's summary rejection of Hawk-Eye may have had something to do with their continuing anger at the Premier League's high-handedness in promoting their Game 39 plan. Certainly Michel Platini's alternative suggestion sounds ludicrous, more like a hastily-conceived spoiler. The fact that the extra refs wouldn't have anything to do most of the time also forms part of the argument against goal-line technology. Every misjudgement made in this area by an official is highlighted and endlessly replayed. But such issues occur very rarely. Goals are much more likely to arise from other mistakes made by the referee and his assistants, such as a bad offside call or a misjudgement of a handball incident inside the area. If goal-line technology is permitted, other innovations will surely follow and football will complete its transformation into a branch of TV light entertainment. If football is to be “killed” the murder weapon will be found in the hands of the broadcasters.