Monday 17 August ~
Only two matches into the league season there has been a controversy that will delight the TV networks. They have been given yet another opportunity to publicise the arguments in favour of goal-line technology – and the use of television replays to aid the officials. Crystal Palace should have gone one up at Bristol City on Saturday when Freddie Sears' shot hit the stanchion at the back of the net and bounced out. Instead referee Rob Shoebridge refused to award a goal despite vigorous protest from the Palace players.
Their manager Neil Warnock and chairman Simon Jordan are likely to be reprimanded by the FA for suggesting that the Bristol City players' failure to support the Palace goal claims constituted "cheating". The City chief executive, Colin Sexstone, angrily rejected the cheat claim while seeming to question the credibility of his team's accusers: "We have to come to expect this from Warnock and Jordan. They are shouting and bawling without knowing the facts." In defence of the City players it could be said that they were doing what players do regularly. Almost every week of the season there are incidents when a team concedes a goal but tries to pretend that they haven't. It might be that the ball has crossed the line before being cleared by a defender or clawed back by a goalkeeper, or that a player will vociferously claim offside when he knows that he has played an opponent on.
City manager Gary Johnson has previously acted to redress a mistake made by a referee. When he was in charge of Yeovil in 2004 his side inadvertently scored when returning the ball to the opposition goalkeeper after it had been kicked out for play for treatment to an injured player. Johnson then instructed his players to allow their opponents to score from the kick-off. In this case of the Palace non-goal, Johnson is claiming that his players thought there had been an infringement in the build-up – although that wouldn't explain why the referee awarded a goal-kick. As anyone who reads the football press will know, the voluble Warnock has a testy relationship with many of his fellow managers, some of whom are disinclined to even speak to him after falling out over incidents in matches. It might just be that this influenced the response of Gary Johnson and his players on Saturday even though an injustice had clearly been done.
While apologising to Palace, referees' chief Keith Hackett expressed his frustration that FIFA blocked a proposed experiment with goal-line technology at an international board meeting a year ago. "The ref carries the can but we've already said we need help in this particular field." FIFA's opposition stems from concern that referees, already subjected to painstaking scrutiny by television, will have their role further undermined if they are deemed to require electronic aid in making decisions. So for now we will have to get by with football being a sport played and controlled entirely by human beings. By and large this has worked pretty well for the past 140 years. Goals will be awarded and matches won this season on the basis of refereeing errors. But not nearly as many as will be due to mistakes by players – and no amount of technology will ever prevent a bad back-pass or miskick in front of goal.