VAR / Referee / Solution

VAR has come to The World Cup – which is an event staged to attempt to distract Bradford City supporters from their lack of a manager, which is failing – and it is all not as it seems.

Bradford City’s own Ryan McGowan was furious when VAR was used to The French looked needlessly poor in this match. The lack of pressing in this post-Klopp world was odd. team he had a half decent chance of being in while Iceland seemed to get away with a foul against Argentina largely because there was something amusing about Iceland getting away with a foul against Argentina.

Both tackles seemed to be penalties – if you watched the footage at a speed other than the speed in which it happened, and deliberately pretended that a 2D image can replace a 3D one at giving depth perception, and then squinted – but VAR was deployed for one and not the other and so one was and one was not.

If this seems to you, dear reader, to be business as usual that is because it is. Referees have – for the entirety of football – been giving decisions on the basis of what they may or may not have seen and while VAR gives them some more sight in which to give those decisions it does not change the nature of a refereeing decision, in that it is a decision.

Technology

A digression on technology in football. We – the supporters of the game – were promised for decades that VAR would solve the problem of wrong decisions in football and obviously it will not.

This contrasts with Goal Line Technology which does a single job well and highlights the problems that technology should be used to solve in football. The factual – the discussion of what has happened – is subject to technology while interpretation is not.

A system which gives accurate GPS positions of players and the ball would be excellent at telling a referee if a player is in an offside position but that would not make that player offside.

Technology in football is best used in that context.

Decision

Decision by referees are judgements made, hopefully, in as unbiased a fashion as possible and it may be worth recognising that. The opaque thing in Refereeing is not that a decision was made – one can see that – but the reasons for that decision.

The consensus from Football’s authorities from top to bottom is that Referees are infallible. This has led to a contortion of the laws of the game – and the interpretation of those laws – around the idea that the Referee is never wrong they are just perceiving a judgement you did not. Charlie Wyke’s frequent withdrawn sending offs for Bradford City always come with a side of some official insisting that the decision was accurate even when it is repelled.

The solution to this problem would seem to be simple. The Referee submits a report on the game he has been in charge of – this happens at most levels if not all – and those reports are kept by the authorities. It seems to be a merciful gift to officials to make those reports both more verbose and public.

More verbose in that one has to believe that in the case of Iceland vs Argentina the Referee may be of a mind to write about the missed penalty decision that he did not see a foul during the incident, nor did VAR, nor did the linesmen or other officials.

Public because find the reasons for a Referee’s actions might highlight to supporters the judgements involved, even if those judgements are wrong.

Because judgement calls are never going to get any better than they are now. Technology can tell us if the ball went in but everything else is interpretation of events and good Referees are the ones which interpret events correctly.

Which is the key skill in Refereeing. A Referee needs to know the laws of the game and apply them to the action they have seen which is an act of interpreting the abstract of the law into the practical of the game. To be a good Referee is to be able to do this and, as evidenced by years of watching Referees, this is not the trait selected for.

Broadening and opening up Referee’s reports to the public would highlight this, and make everyone in football better able to know the good Referees from the poor ones rather than wasting time and effort discussing technologies which can never address the main concerns.

Respect / Response

The Football League has a new set of rules to cope with the “unacceptable levels” of “intolerable behaviour” by players and managers in English football.

Ad absurdum these new rules mean that players can be booked for bumping into the Referee but more practically they give the officials the power send players off for swearing at them or insulting them.

Which is unarguable on the surface and few people would suggest that anyone should have to put up with abuse, insults and swearing directed towards them. Of course the Football League is not going to do anything within the context of the laws of the game to prevent players from being the object of this – racist abuse supporters is entirely a Police matter – and when it gets onto the field we they prefer to punish the victim.

The detail is more murky. Reading the list some of the enumerated offences are practically useful to stop match officials from being insulted and abused but, smuggled within those, are offences created to stop players from questioning or disagreeing with decisions.

Take the unclear working “visibly disrespectful behaviour to any match official” and imagine a defender who has seen a forward dive over his withdrawn leg to win a penalty. The double hand swallow dive mime is a direct question to the authority of the Referee who has given the incorrect decision but should it be a yellow card offence? It is now.

As is banging the floor hard when a forward is brought down and believes he should have had a penalty but sees the Referee wave play on. Smash the ground with your fist and of course what you are doing is questioning the Referee’s decision but is that a bad thing?

What is the ethical merit of never questioning Referees? Why is it virtuous for players to accept every decision as correct even when they may know better than the official that it is not? Everyone knows the practical benefits of an unquestioned autocracy but few welcome it in other areas of life.

It is not as if the match officials are never wrong. Ask the better ones and they will tell players they are often wrong but try to be right as often as they can be. Those Referees seem to be the ones which players respect.

Which is, in the end, the root of these new laws. The dual belief that match officials are drowned in a sea of disrespect and a misguided sense of how respect can be forced into players. On the former point one could be excused for thinking that events at Bradford City games are drastically different from the rest of football.

One struggles to remember any significant incidents of abuse of officials worthy of the name at City matches going back years. I’m sure they hear the odd bad word and that some of them are directed at them but nothing that stopped them doing the job as evidenced by the fact that no games descended into chaos or anything similar.

This idea that football is awash with disrespect of officials at the professional level to the point where it is obvious to supporters – and thus that it could make a difference as an example at other levels of football – is not true. Stamp out all disrespect from professional League One football and it would look exactly as it does now, unless you increase the definition of disrespect to include any questioning of a decision.

Which speaks to the idea that respect can be forced into footballers. It cannot.

Questioning a decision – and there are right and wrong ways to do that – is a natural reaction and one that a grown man is allowed to have. Football seems very much concerned with stopping this.

Referees seem very much concerned with stopping this as if stopping anyone showing what they consider to be disrespect means that there is no disrespect and, by extension, that they are respected.

But respect can’t be forced and if anyone in football wants to seriously think about respect as an issue then perhaps they should consider the inherent lack of respect with which football treats the players. They are told not not even think that that the Referee could be wrong.

Referees are not Headmasters. They have the responsibility for enforcing the laws of the game but that is where their role stops. They are not responsible for the behaviour of the players just for enforcing the laws when behaviour transgresses those rules.

From today they can be booked – told off – for banging their fists on the floor in frustration at a wrong decision.

Footballers are treated like children and these new guidelines smuggle in more ways to tell them off for questioning as if they were kids to an demanding father.

Maybe changing that is where respect should start.

On how the sending off of goalkeepers is a punishment without proportion

Imagine, if you will dear reader, a different scene on Saturday when Bradford City lost to Rochdale when Jordan Pickford was sent off for denying Matt Done a goal or goal scoring opportunity which had almost certainly gone. Imagine Done more central, no defenders, and Pickford taking the man squarely and cleanly.

Imagine that Pickford had unequivocally denied Rochdale a goal or goal scoring opportunity. The Referee would have sent Pickford off with the same haste and City would have faced the same situation of facing a penalty kick and playing a game with ten men.

Even though in this hypothetical situation Pickford would have been guilty of the offence the punishment given would still have been too harsh. The sending off of a goalkeeper for denying a goal or goal scoring opportunity is a disproportionate punishment for the offence and does not offer recompense for the offended against team.

Cold goalkeepers

In no other situation in football are you required to make a substitution in haste. If a player is injured you can withdraw him and bring on a replacement when that replacement is warmed up. You can take as long as you want to do this.

This includes goalkeeping changes which often result in close to minutes injury time rather than goalkeeper sendings off which are completed with such speed that the replacement keeper does not have the time to prepare and he is not in the flow of the game.

If a defender is sent off for denying a goal or goal scoring opportunity then the goalkeeper is warm when the penalty happens, if the goalkeeper is replaced he is cold. Why is the team punished extra by having a cold goalkeeper because of the identity of the sent off player?

And what about the risks of demanding a cold player come straight into action? What about when the cold goalkeeper pulls a muscle diving for the penalty? Is that to be an additional part of the punishment?

In no other situation is a player expected to play cold.

The ten men

Whilst considering the concept of additional punishment the penalty not considered reward enough for a denial of a goal or goal scoring opportunity offence and so the team must play with ten players for a spell of time which is decided by when the offence occurred.

If we put Pickford’s hypothetical offence in the last minute of a game where then the punishment is a penalty and playing a minute or two with ten men. If we put it in the first minute minute of a game then the penalty is faced but the team have to play with ten men for a full 89 minutes. What about a keeper sent off after fifty eight minutes in a final already lost?

It is impossible to say that those three situations represent the fair punishments. To play without a man for almost a full game is clearly a more harsh punishment to be missing a man for injury time.

Of course there is an argument that says that goals earlier in the games are more formative of the match and thus important than goals later in the game and so a player denying a goal or goal scoring should be punished more severely if he does it early in the game than late. Try telling that Asamoah Gyan and his Ghana teammates.

Reducing an opposition team to one fewer men is only sometime a punishment. For City at Wembley against Swansea City Matt Duke’s sending off was neither here nor there – the game was gone – but had the score been been 3-0 to the Bantams then it would have obviously had a different importance and be more of a punishment.

The formation

A football manager’s role on match days is to assess the ebb and flow of games and respond accordingly. When a manager sees a goalkeeper sent off for an incident that results in a penalty kick and he must make a decision on who to remove to bring on a replacement before the penalty is taken.

But he cannot make that decision. He does not have a vital piece of information. He does not know if the game is ebbing or flowing? He does not know what is going to happen from the penalty.

If the game is in the balance – say 0-0 – and he takes off a defensive player he assumes that the penalty will be scored and he will chase the game for an equaliser. If he takes of an attacking player and needs to score he is a man shy in achieving that goal. If the penalty kick is missed then his plans have to be rethought.

Again at no other point in football is punishment so disproportionate. If any other player is sent off the manager is allowed the fullness of time to decide who to remove and how to change his formation in knowledge of the score of the game.

Only in this specific instance does the manager have to make a decision before the game can continue knowing that the next action in the game has a great chance of rendering his decision wrong.

If the game is 0-0, and a player is sent off for a bad tackle in midfield the manager can decide if he will move defensively to try maintain a draw or press on and try win. If a defender is sent off for the denial of a goal or a goal scoring opportunity then the manage is able to make the decision as to a replacement knowing if any resulting penalty has been scored.

Why should the goalkeeper being sent off be given such a special and specifically disproportionate set of punishments which exceed the punishment given to a team when a defender commits the same offence?

What Phil Parkinson should have done against Rochdale

Ten minutes into the game and Matt Done has done what he had done and Jordan Pickford has been sent off. The first thing Phil Parkinson should do is to send Matt Williams to warm up but rather than removing Andy Halliday Parkinson should have given a green shirt to whichever of his players still on the field has even the slightest ability between the sticks.

Jon Stead is tall and agile. Stead gets the gloves and goes in goal while Williams warms up.

Rochdale take the penalty. Penalties are most often scored regardless of the quality of the goalkeeper.

85% of penalties which are on target go into the goal. 94% of the time keepers move one way or the other and when that way is the right way they have a 40% chance of saving the ball hit in that direction but when the ball is hit centrally, and the keeper stays in the middle, they have a 60% chance of saving the ball.

The best strategy for penalties, in other words, is to stand in the middle of the goal and hope the player misses the target. Which is what Parkinson should have told Stead (or whomever) to do. Probably he would not have saved it but probably all penalties go into the goal.

And so after the penalty is scored Parkinson would know that Halliday was the man to remove because there was a game to chance and remove him for a now warmed up Williams with Stead returning up front.

Had the penalty been missed or Stead have saved it Parkinson could remove a different player, probably Stead, and tried to grind out a victory with the eight players in defensive position as he has previously.

But what is to be done, part one

In the case of denial of a goal or a goal scoring opportunity Referees have to understand that they are handing out the single biggest on field punishment in the game – the A-Bomb of football – and perhaps consider if a player running away from goal with covering defenders who is – shall we say – brushed is really the situation that whomever framed the rules envisaged when this ultimate sanction was created.

Those Referees who do feel they have to send a goalkeeper off and that the punishment they are mandated to give is without proportion might want to complain to their superiors and try get the rule changed.

I shall not hold my breath for that.

But what is to be done, part two

Football needs to look again at what the role of Referees is and what he is trying to achieve. Football’s laws have evolved rather than been created and many of them do not achieve the aims we should expect them to.

The redress given for the denial of a goal – as Ghana attest to – is not on a level with a goal scoring opportunity. Consider the Luis Suárez handball in 2010 and the Jordan Pickford sending off on Saturday and reflect that Pickford’s punishment was massively greater than that of Suárez.

My brother and I have talked long into the night on the merits of awarding an unopposed penalty as redress for the denial of a goal. That is a way that the offended against team could have redress.

It is thinking like that which can start to level the injustice which is codified into football’s laws.

Throwing the game

Bradford City are almost certain to face FA action after referee Rob Lewis had a missile hurled at him on Saturday following his frankly rubbish performance in the game against Northampton Town.

The missile at Lewis comes in the days after City were told that they had to address the issue with things being chucked from the stands. The club have tried and been unsuccessful in stopping the problem which has occurred far too often.

Not that one would criticise the club’s endeavours in this area. They are proactive in trying to stop the missile issue offering an anonymous text line to report offenders but targeted one person in ten thousand is always going to be difficult.

The club need the help of supporters to condemn the action and tell the perpetrators that what they are doing in unacceptable. I’d sign BfB’s name up to that piece of paper without hesitation. All the criticism of Referees that supporters make is invalidated when someone lobs something at the man in black.

Rob Lewis’ display should have been the stuff of investigations – questions like “what did you book Kevin Ellison for?” should have been asked – but instead of that the blame has fallen on the supporters once more, for the misbehaviour of one in our midst.

I have my own issues with the way that Refereeing is approached and believe that those in power do no favours to the work-a-day League Two officials who are at the sharp end of the game. The fact that when Lewis disappears down the tunnel he is out of contact and unquestioned adds to the level of frustration fans feel, but does nothing to justify assaulting him.

In a better world Lewis would post his match report for us all to read and we could find out why Player X was yellow carded while Player Y was not but there is no feedback for the paying customer, no respect from the official side of Refereeing that the supporters deserves to be informed.

The lack of respect though that causes someone to hurl something at a man is a different, and more serious, matter. It is little wonder that the game considers fans as chattel if fans cannot police themselves to the extent that offenders are not outed as displaying behaviour which is considered unacceptable.

I’m in favour of a top to bottom review of Refereeing that includes changing the relationship between official and supporter to give the support a right to know how and why a decision was made.

That cannot happen though when Referees are dodging objects and City fans need to join the club in making it clear that this sort of small minded, small brained, big problem will not be acceptable behaviour for anyone who wants to call themselves a Bradford City supporter.

Give the man what he wants

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Gareth Evans, Jon Worthington, Michael Flynn, Kevin Ellison | James Hanson, Jake Speight | David Syers, Scott Dobie

At the start of the second half watching Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Northampton Town it became apparent that discussion of new managers in Peter Jackson and Gary Johnson or players like Jake Speight and Guillem Bauza who made his debut for the Cobblers that the only man who was going to be the subject of discussion was Referee Rob Lewis.

So lets give the man who wants to be the centre of attention what he wants. His own match report.

The game started quietly and Lewis got to make his first impact on eight minutes when a cross came into the Northampton boss from one of the Bradford City players and was handled by Northampton man Seth Nana Ofori-Twumasi.

Ofori-Twumasi’s arm was out and some might have said that there was no deliberate movement of hand to ball but the fact that the arm was away from the body probably justified the award of a penalty. Four minutes later when the trailing team attacked a strong tackle from Jon Worthington – the Bradford City midfielder – took ball before man but knocked the man over. It was a strong tackle but not an aggressive one so Lewis’ decision to give a yellow card seemed a mistake.

If Lewis were to have seen the tackle as not having made contact with the ball before the man then then the card would have been justified but if he did he would be mistaken.

Some of the tedious football stuff took up much of the rest of the half before Lewis could reassert his authority awarding a free kick against a Bradford City defender who headed the ball away while coming into contact with a Northampton striker.

Lewis’ decision was a curious one. Both players have to be allowed to contest the ball and neither went in with a disregard for the other. One has to arrive first and the other second but both have to be allowed to contest it. If Lewis is t give a free kick against either then one can only assume it is because he feels one has used his head illegally – ie head butted – so he should have sent off the offender.

The offender – it turned out – was to be booked a minute later for a badly timed tackle on a defender as he tried to clear the ball. It was a mistimed tackle and one which injured the the booked Luke Oliver but the yellow card was fair under the laws of the game. I’m never comfortable with the idea of booking mistimed tackles that lack recklessness but the laws suggest it.

Next in the book was Bradford City player Michael Flynn who was guilty of taking possession of the ball after a free kick which was attempted to be taken out of position. Flynn took the ball to a position on the field, Northampton tried to take the free kick from a different place, Lewis told them to take it from the position Flynn had suggested.

There is a technical argument that sees Flynn booked but moreover this seemed like Lewis being a petty man, booking Flynn for not doing as he was told, when he was told. The problem with booking players for technical offences like the “kicking the ball away” or “delaying the restart” is that if it is done once is has to be done every time – otherwise the referee is operating a system of favouritism.

So after Northampton scored later in the game Rob Lewis saw nine of the players leave the field without permission – a technical offence which requires a yellow card as a punishment – but opted to ignore that. Most referees would but few choose to ignore a goal scorer who celebrates by leaving the field of play. Lewis decided he would ignore that.

So giving the centre of attention can have the attention he craves one has to wonder why Rob Lewis watches one technical offence and decides not to book it and sees another and decides to? Either the laws of the game are to be applied in all situations or they are not and a defence of “common sense” is not relevant here. Technical offences are mentioned in the laws exactly because they are not the subject of judgement calls.

The second half and Guillem Bauza of Northampton put in a late tackle. The ball had gone when he contacted with the Bradford City and so the booking was deserved in the context of the decision to book Worthington earlier although that was Worthington for his first offence and Bauza had been given a verbal dressing down in the first half and seemed to give Lewis some attitude back.

Contrast that with Northampton’s Byron Webster who seemed to spend most of the second half avoiding Lewis’ attentions having at one point pushed a Bradford City player with two hands in the chest – an action which would seem to suggest discipline – and kicking the ball forty yards away from the corner flag after a corner. Lewis saw both these offences and decided not to book them. One is – once again – a mandated booking.

A penalty was awarded when a Northampton striker and a Bradford City defender came together in the box. It seemed that the Northampton Town striker jumped at he Bradford City defender who was the last defender and as such one might have expected a sending off but Lewis lacked the courage of his conviction to do that and perhaps the referee – should he not feel that a Bradford City defender had fouled a Northampton Town striker in a way that denied a goal scoring opportunity – might have felt that there was no foul and should have considered awarding an indirect free kick for obstruction.

Many, many yellow cards followed and the game was ruined as football match with free kicks given for very little and Lewis’ inability to maintain a discipline – having spend his credibility cheaply – failing to keep a flowing game. Having flashed yellow cards for little – or ignored them on an ad hoc basis – he decided that a knee high tackle by Jamie Reckord on a Bradford City player which was reckless and did not get the ball should only be a (another) yellow card rather than the red which the laws state.

The football match ruined the game petered out so the only thing on show was Lewis and his ego. He booked Jake Speight for reasons utterly unclear and let us make no mistake about this when the Referee is booking a player and no one has any idea what it is for then the Referee is in error pretty much all the time. Perhaps it was “decent” and considering with the resultant free kick being taken from where a Bradford City player had won the ball rather than where Speight was one would guess it is.

Lewis watches players commit the technical offences that the laws of the game he is empowered to enforce are broken and chooses to ignore them but he will not ignore someone talking out of turn to him. The schoolmasterly ego of the football Referee that can forgive anything but becomes zealous when someone talks out of turn to him never does not turn my stomach.

Bradford City’s Jon Worthington was sent off as he tried to clear the ball and caught a Northampton Town striker – only the second time he has caused the official to blow his whistle – which as a decision smacked against Lewis’ decision to avoid booking Webster. Why Webster (or any player, including some of the Bradford City player) can commit offences that go unpunished and Worthington is booked for the only two offences he is pulled up for shows Lewis being swept up in the emotion.

It is the late in the game, there is a foul and Lewis gets wrapped up in the excitement which is exactly what he is on the field not to do.

In the last minute Kevin Ellison was booked for stamping his foot on the ground perhaps out of frustration felt by the rest of us that he wanted to be involved in a football match but instead had to be a bit part player in the tiresome afternoon exhibition with one man at the centre of it. If only Lewis’ would tell us what exactly it was that Ellison did that he thought was the equal of the knee height tackle, the kicking the ball away, the being cheeky of previous bookings.

Rob Lewis – the man who once did not see Pedro Mendes’ goal at Old Trafford – made the afternoon about Rob Lewis and as a result ruined what could have been a good football match.

One hopes he reads this match report, it is all about him, because he made sure he was the centre of attention.

Just as the man wanted.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

A good laugh about bad refs

Having watched a Referee try restart a football match unaware that a player was receiving treatment in the penalty area on Tuesday night I had some sympathy for Anthony Bates, the man in black as City played Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.

Bates might have got some calls wrong on the evening and lacked an authority, but his job was made a much harder by what seemed to be a campaign of gamesmanship by the visiting team. That the Accrington staff were sneaking onto the field to delay the game is something that Bates should have dealt with, but the fault lays more with the Physiotherapist in question then the man who could not curtail his actions. Bates might not have showered himself in glory, but his job was made harder and we should all recognise that.

Nevertheless, and utterly predictably, BfB was contacted by a Referee from Bradford complaining about what he saw as (para) “another one dimensional article having a go at Referees.” And there was me thinking my articles were one dimensional defences of Stuart McCall, another dimension and I might have started looking at things from multiple angles.

(A note here on comments. If a comment starts with the name of the writer and then goes on to talk directly to the writer it is treated as an email and not a comment for the public to read. The writer may choose to reply by mail or may not. Comments for publication need to be relevant to the readers, not just the writer.)

Joking aside the Referee in question got in touch with BfB and gave some “corrections” to my opinions – often dealings with referees send my mind back to being at school – on the basis of the BBC highlights he had seen. Watching the BBC clips made it clear – I was told – that I “haven’t a clue.”

I paused for a moment to consider the idea who would say that having watched a football match live your view on it would be less valid than someone who watched the highlights.

Opinions are great, especially those that come from experts, but frequently the tone of communications from Referees is troublingly authoritarian. The phrase “I’m a Referee and this is what happened…” features often as if those of us who have spent decades watching the game were incapable of making a judgement on incidents. There is a high-handedness in Refereeing which does them, and the rest of football, no favours at all.

Scotland, where the Referees roam wild

This weekend the SPL games are – it is hoped – to be refereed by guest officials from foreign leagues after the home Refs declared a strike in a demand for more respect. The Scots situation is unique in world of football – any other place where such raw religious fundamentalism is allowed to go unchecked is usually associated with a deadly numeric – but as Celtic manager Neil Lennon turned on the officials after the now infamous game with Dundee United he did so in full knowledge that as the manager of one of the teams involved he would not be invited to any sort of dialogue with the man in the middle.

Of course one might wonder how much managers would welcome increased contact with Referees, and how they would respond to it. A Premier League experiment with increasing officials communication back in 2003 reached a point where after a game with Manchester United the then Southampton boss Gordon Strachan accused the Referee of being too scared to show his face.

Strachan’s reach neatly deflected some attention away from his team’s defeat for sure but the damage done in the press seemed to end the experiment. These days referees are making their decision in a sea of analysis and their voice is unrepresented in that conversation.

Respect the rules I lay down, the system say, and question nothing. Default respect without communication is something that some can give and other cannot, I know I am in the latter group.

The structure of football demands respect for the Referee and largely is right to do so but seemingly there is a need for this respect to be granted and never earned. The Referee wants your respect but he will not address you in the same manner.

All of which is a great shame. Referees are experts and they have interesting and fascinating opinions on football and they are people with emotions who want to do a good job. Yet the FA would rather we did not know this. The Referee is famously silent after a game and the report which he submits on that match is not available to the paying public.

Anthony Bates was no doubt not happy with his performance and furious with the gamesmanship which made it harder for him, but having watched the game one would not know it. I would like to read his views on the handball, on the elbow, on the pitch invasions; but in the most autocratic way the game offers I am not able to.

As a supporter I’m expected to pay my money, accept the Refereeing I get and shut up about it. And so are you.

I believe that it would advance the cause of Refereeing to allow the man in black to have his say. To humanise the guy with the whistle who might say after a game that yes, he has seen something again and thinks he got it wrong but he made his decision at the time and while people might not agree then at least they would understand.

We shall not, dear reader, at this point talk about the less then glorious history of bias in refereeing which is proven – only four years ago Juventus were relegated for fixing games using “favourable referees” – and concentrate on the officials trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances. I would love to read Bates’s views on the Accrington antics, but I’m not going to get to, so I give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his job was made harder. For all I know he might have thought that there was nothing going wrong.

The high-handedness though continues.

There was no complaint from the defence and City scored. Move on! I realise that ref baiting is a national if not world sport, but your reports are becoming unnecessarily one dimensional Michael – A Referee Speaks.

Moving aside from the fact that there was complaint from the defence – although that did not show up on the highlights – and to the idea that Referees feel that they are part of a jokey “national sport” as if the mistakes they make are only highlighted as a part of a comedic campaign and because the losing team is upset at the result. It is not the case that the only reason that Sir Bobby Robson’s England were upset about the Maradona handball is because they did not win the game.

It is judged to be a good laugh and “part of football” that the quality of refereeing is often so low that supporters are left complaining about games being ruined is not a reason to continue it.

Over the ten years of BfB the same theme has come from Referees both in my postbag and in the wider press that any complaints are the result of disgruntlement on behalf of fans and that moaning about officials is something which as part of the “fabric of football” is some how enjoyable. It is not, bad refereeing is like a poor pitch, it gets in the way of the game and should be rolled out.

So now then

It is the “Move on!” comment though which strikes me as insidious. Anthony Bates allowed a situation where gamesmanship ruined a football match and rather than recognising that we are to “move on”? Ignore the faults, protect the weak Referees and, in doing so, harm the game.

Protectionism that keeps weak referees close and protects them, stopping them from improving and inflicting them on paying football supporters later is disgraceful and people involved in carrying it on should be ashamed.

There is no good laugh about bad referees.

That red card, this red card and the enemies of football

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Richard Eckersley, Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Leon Osborne, Tom Ademeyi, Tommy Doherty, Lee Hendrie | Jason Price, James Hanson | Omar Daley, Gareth Evans, Robbie Threlfall

If one were Referee Anthony Bates one might probably like to forget this cold night in Bradford and one would do well to hope that other did so too.

Indeed in a 1-1 draw that saw little in the way of impressive football and much that stood in the way of it one might have looked at the much talked about advertisements for season tickets which were plastered around the ground and wondered if any sale of what was on show on this evening might have been a hard sell.

Accrington Stanley’s commitment to the unlaudable aim of getting a point from the game was initially laudable and in a packed midfield they did much to frustrate a City team which was hampered by a poor selection of players by Peter Taylor.

Omar Daley exited the side to allow Jason Price and James Hanson to lead the line but without Daley dropping between the lines, and with Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne too far on the flanks to provide outlets for the midfield, the Bantams were troublesomely squared off. The midfield central two survived an uneven first half by Tom Adeyemi but whenever he or Tommy Doherty looked for an outlet the attacking unit were unjoined, and thus ineffective.

Adeyemi’s unevenness, and the character he showed to recover from some poor spells, should have been truncated after 21 minutes when Accrington’s first serious (or frivolous) attack when lone striker Terry Gornell picked up a loose ball and tried to flick it around the City midfielder only to see the top of Adeyemi’s arm sweep the ball away.

It was a penalty – scored by – Phil Edwards but for Anthony Bates to award a penalty for handball he had to have decided that Adeyemi’s offence was deliberate the rules of the game making it clear that only deliberate action is to be considered handball and thus the City man had denied a goalscoring opportunity and should have been sent off.

Bates gave the penalty as a statement that the offence was deliberate, then failed to send the player off saying that the offence was not.

That Accrington Stanley enjoyed the better of the next fifteen or twenty minutes in which they mustered four shots at Lenny Pidgeley’s goal perhaps suggests that at the time they should have been attacking City’s ten men and perhaps manager John Coleman will be fuming over that decision which may very well has cost his side a win.

Peter Taylor decided that his team needed to step up to earn a win and slipped Daley on for Osborne with instant results. Daley made a nuisance of himself and Accrington struggled to cope with a now three man forward line. A well worked ball into the box saw Jason Price leap and take an elbow to the face but as the ball bounced towards one time City keeper (and narrowboat owner) Ian Dunbavin James Hanson stuck his foot in where the ball bounced and after a keeper striker smash the ball fell to Price who tidied the ball into the goal.

Penalty? Foul on the keeper? Nothing? Something? Anthony Bates might want to skip over that minute of football and just note, as we do, that Jason Price equalised for Bradford City.

The Bantams on top now and a Richard Eckersley ball over the top bounced for James Hanson who took the ball into his body and was pulled down by the last defender Kevin Long and once again Bates was left having given a decision which mandated a specific punishment – Long having committed a foul that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity – but opted to give a yellow card.

So City, on top of the game, should have been facing ten men but for the non-decisions and Law ignoring of Bates. Taylor’s switch had given City the edge and caused problems which took Accrington twenty-five minutes until they threw on Luke Joyce to plug the danger from. One might be tempted to suggest that two wrongs made a right but these wrongs were not errors of judgement or mistakes – this was not a Ref seeing one thing and it turning out later he was wrong – it was him seeing offences and then ignoring the mandated punishments.

But as the blood boiled at Bates one could not help but feel some sympathy for him at the end and trudging away from the draw into the kelt of Bradford that sympathy stretched to whomever had blighted my sight with the so horrible season ticket advertisements.

As City pushed for a winner there was – seemingly – a campaign of gamesmanship involving the Accrington Stanley players going over too easily and staying down, and involved Accrington Stanley Physio invading the field without Bates’ permission, staying on the field too long, using no urgency to leave it.

This reached a nadir when as O’Brien looked to take a free kick Anthony Bates’ attention was draw to the fact that Accrington’s Physio had been on the field – again without permission – for sometime and delayed the restart for minutes giving a defender treatment. The momentum lost and the game dragged out without much interest.

Playing for a draw might be dull, but using gamesmanship to drag it out harms football and people who do it in the way it seemed Accrington’s staff were – are the enemies of football. Supporters, and anyone who had come to watch a football match, needed referee Anthony Bates to stamp his authority on the evening. They needed him to send the Physio away from the bench (Yes, he can do that) for entering the field of play without permission but what other tools does he have in his arsenal to cope with such obvious gamesmanship?

What control does the Referee have over a team which goes from playing for a draw to simply trying to avoid playing at all? What authority would he, or could he, take?

Sadly Bates, however, seemed to be determined that he would show no authority at all.

After Saturday’s refereeing horror show, look who’s in town on Saturday…

As the dust settles on Saturday’s controversial refereeing display from Mick Russell, a referee will again be the centre of attention this weekend as Bradford City’s home game with Macclesfield is to be officiated by Stuart Attwell.

The youngest person ever to referee a Premier League match, Attwell has been ‘rested’ since officiating a 2-2 draw between Liverpool and Sunderland in September. That afternoon Liverpool scored in highly controversial circumstances, after Attwell had awarded Sunderland a free kick in their own half.  Mackems defender Michael Turner laid the ball back to keeper Simon Mignolet to take the free kick, only for Attwell to determine the kick had been taken and allow Liverpool to run through and score.

Attwell was dropped for making such a blunder, and has yet to referee a game since. We have the dubious pleasure of his return on Saturday.

The 26-year-old is well known for a series of errors, most famously awarding Reading a phantom goal in their game against Watford in 2008. His list of controversies is long, and City were the victims of his whistle-happy antics at Morecambe last season where a truly horrendous performance was capped off by a ridiculous sending off for Gareth Evans.

At least we’ve been warned what to expect.

So City v Macclesfield is the first tentative step back for apparently one of the country’s brightest referees. No doubt the Premier League spotlight will make its way to Valley Parade as the powers-that-be judge whether his break has enabled him to improve his decision-making – but it is worth questioning quite why any Football League match should be used as a testing ground for an inept Premier League referee.

One hopes that this will lead to a low-key afternoon without any major decisions; because despite the presence of a famous face, there should be no doubt who is not the star of the show on Saturday.

Blackpool undermine the technology debate

To all Football League supporters but Preston fans, the performance and strategy adopted by newly-promoted Blackpool in the Premier League this season is something we should take pride in. True they’ve had a couple of heavy beatings, but their unwillingness to compromise on their attacking principles and refusal to break the bank on star players is a highly commendable approach that it would be heart-warming to see succeed – especially with all the usual pundits ridiculing them for it.

But as manager Ian Holloway snarled into the interviewer’s microphone after refereeing decisions contributed to a 3-2 home defeat to Man City, it suddenly became difficult to muster sympathy or retain the fantasy that this was one of us sticking it to the Premier League elite.

Holloway called for the introduction of video technology, citing that three crucial decisions which went against his team – a disallowed Blackpool goal at 0-0, a borderline offside Man City opener and a foul in the build up to City’s second – would have otherwise been correctly called by the officials. He pointed out the ludicrousness of the fact TV viewers around the world had access to TV replays in seconds, while the referee has no such help in evaluating whether his decisions might be correct.

But he called for video technology to be introduced to the Premier League, and perhaps the Championship, only. He said, “It doesn’t have to go down to every bit of football, it doesn’t, just the top flight. If you can’t afford it for everywhere else it doesn’t matter…it won’t matter about the 1st division 2nd division, non-league, it won’t matter.”

Given this was only Blackpool’s eighth top flight match, it was disappointing to see how quickly the club appears to be turning it’s back on the lower leagues which have been the Tangerines home for the previous 29 years. Sure, the Premier League has the resources and the TV technology to implement the use of video evidence, but what about the rest of us? Are our games less significant? Is it right we play to a different set of rules?

As I’ve argued previously, to me it seems wrong that similar incidents in a game between two Premier League teams and two Football League teams could be subject to a different set of rules simply because one league is more prosperous. Contrary to popular belief, this sport is not all about 20 clubs and the actions taken over the past 18 years in pushing the focus so heavily onto the top flight has had damaging consequences in the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Other sports like Rugby League have been happy to operate under different rules; with Super League employing video technology during televised games and the National Divisions below it having no such support Super League and National Division games shown live on TV employing video technology, but non-televised fixtures having no extra support, but in many ways this is a sport which has had to sell out its core values in order to increase its popularity. There is not even promotion and relegation to and from the Super League anymore.

But above all that, the argument that Holloway made shows exactly why introducing technology could prove a bad mistake for the sport. Once the tap is turned slightly, it will be difficult to switch off.

The main argument put forward by the advocates of technology is to use it purely for settling debates over whether the ball crossed the line. But on Sunday Holloway was arguing technology should be used to settle offside calls. Fine, add that to the new rules too. But wait, he’s also upset that there was a foul in the build up to the second Man City goal, which TV replays could have highlighted to the referee. So do we allow technology to be used for such incidents too?

And it goes on and on. Because if technology is used for one aspect of the game, pretty soon every wronged manager will be telling the press it’s a disgrace if technology isn’t used to settle the type of controversy their team has just suffered from too. Suddenly the game is in chaos and the line between what is fair and not fair is blurred completely. The tap can’t be stopped.

Equally, both the glorious and worst thing about football is its subjectivity. I bet Man City fans would argue Carlos Tevez didn’t foul the Blackpool player in the build-up to the second goal, would video replays have changed the referee’s mind? We can all hold our own opinion over whether the goal should have been allowed or disallowed, but I bet we all wouldn’t universally agree.

How long, after technology had been introduced in this way, would it take for a losing manager to question the validity of the judgement? “I don’t care what the video referee says, that was never a foul. He’s clearly never played the game before.”

Finally, there’s the potential use of video technology in teams’ tactics, which could be to the detriment of the spectacle. If, say, managers were allowed to call for a video replay of a disputed decision, a team defending a lead could make it part of their time-wasting tactics which are aimed at disrupting the flow of the opposition and preventing them building attacking momentum. You’re 1-0 up in the 89th minute and you get a chance to stop the game by asking the officials to review a trivial decision, thereby disrupting the match. Imagine how frustrating that would be as a supporter.

We can all feel sympathy for how Holloway and Blackpool fans felt after their team was robbed of a credible point or even a famous victory, and we all know how horrible that feeling of injustice can be when our team is on the wrong end of bad refereeing decisions – goal line technology at Morecambe’s Christie Park in April 2009 when Peter Thorne’s effort appeared to cross the line, for example, and Bradford City might have achieved promotion. But video technology has assumed some form of idealistic solution in the minds of too many people, as though it would instantly solve all of the game’s problems and football would always be fair because of its deployment.

There has to be other solutions to the problems, such as more officials and closer alignment between the training of footballers and referees. Sure decisions will still be wrong, but this is a game played by humans not robots and if standards could be significantly improved it would be easier to accept fewer occasions where costly mistakes are made.

Bring in the technology for the Premier League only, and it’s almost as though football operates under two codes. It wouldn’t take long for a Football League manager to blame a defeat on the lack of technology, citing that, “if we were in the Premier League that decision wouldn’t have happened, how is that fair?”

And given the historic difficulties newly-promoted clubs have in staying up in England’s top flight for more than a couple of seasons, what price for that lower league manager complaining to one day be Ian Holloway?

Video technology deserves a sensible debate

Despite two entertaining second round games it has not been a good day for the World Cup. Frank Lampard’s shot for England which clearly crossed the line – wrongly not awarded a goal – and Carlos Tevez’s offside opener for Argentina against Mexico – which the assistant referee realised he’d got wrong after TV replays in the stadium, but which the referee could not reverse – have cranked up the volume on calls for video technology.

Every pundit, commentator and rent-a-quote manager has joined in with condemning FIFA and Sepp Blatter for not bringing in video technology. The spectre of Mexico players gathering to watch big screen replays before hounding the assistant referee, leaving the officials having to push through a call they now knew they had wrong, added to the farcical nature. TV replays showed in seconds the decisions were wrong, was the argument for both games, so why ignore the benefits? Sadly the standard of this debate has the hallmarks of much which is wrong with the modern game.

For one thing there seems to be no attempt to understand why the technology isn’t being used. Most pundits incorrectly believe the argument against is simply it will slow down the game, but it’s more a case of subjectivity and expense. Not every decision is as clear cut as Lampard’s ‘goal’ – hours of pundits arguing after games shows that – and the same rules should apply for every football match.

It’s all very well using video technology when there are 60+ cameras covering a match, as every World Cup match and the majority of top flight games is subject too. But football is more than just the Premier League and international tournaments. And during a period where the beautiful game has moved further and further away from ordinary people – witness the thousands of empty seats for more World Cup matches in Africa – it’s one saving grace we all still play the same game.

For while TV could quickly prove Lampard had scored and that Tevez was offside, it couldn’t prove the same in a match at Valley Parade and it couldn’t prove the same for the Dog and Duck on a Sunday morning. How can the pyramid football system be fair if at one level clubs get the benefit of extra help and other clubs do not? England are out the World Cup and it might be due to the lack of technology – though some woeful tactics and poor defending can’t be overlooked – but other teams have lost out of promotion or suffered relegation on similar occurrences.

At Valley Parade there are typically two cameras capturing the game from the Midland Road stand. Never mind the cost of linking up a monitor with a feed to the referee, for him to be able to make a proper call Valley Parade would need to have cameras around the ground covering all angles. As would every other stadium in England and around the world, and while the Dog and Duck can be ruled out on the grounds they are an amateur side, such large parts of professional football cannot.

Not that Alan Green or Alan Hansen or Harry Redknapp would bother to consider this. Modern football is all about the top players, the top clubs, the top competitions. But if technology was brought in just for the haves, there’s more reason for the have nots to feel further alienated.

Of course it’s frustrating Lampard’s goal hasn’t stood. It’s equally wrong when poor refereeing decisions have cost Bradford City. But football needs to find solutions that will universally work rather than thinking only of the few.

Which is where the players come in, not that anyone has considered this. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neur must have known Lampard’s shot crossed the line, why didn’t he hold his hands up? More realistically Argentina’s players knew their opener shouldn’t have counted and that the officals were compromised. Why couldn’t they allow Mexico to run through and score straight from kick off, saying we want to beat you fair and square so let’s go back level?

Winning in football is all that matters. But if the video debate is all about taking human error out of the equation, that other less than desirable human trait – cheating – shouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

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