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.

Ban the vuvuzelas? Can’t we make them compulsory?

The sound of the World Cup is the sound of the vuvuzela.

The drone of a high pitched, continuous sound trumpeted out from every game in South Africa has been the feature of the tournament so far with everything from the horror of Robert Green’s fumble through the excitement of the spanking of Australia to the dullness of France’s draw with Uruguay. Played out to the sound.

However World Cup chief Danny Jordaan may ban vuvuzelas from inside stadiums after complaints from broadcasters. The viewer at home is suffering and there is a real worry that this will cause a knock on effect on viewers.

Football is an irritant to the Mum of the advertisers 2.4 children family at the best of times but when it comes with the headache inducing sound of the vuvuzela then it becomes a turn off rather than a tolerate.

I’ve watched every game of the World Cup and I’ve had headaches but I’ve been to enough football matches to know that coming home with a headache and annoyed by the noise is far from unusual.

Imagine a vuvuzela at Valley Parade next season? Imagine the upset and distress caused and the complaints to stewards and the club: “He was blowing that thing so loud I could hardly hear the bloke behind me calling Luke O’Brien a twat.”

There is a statement that what is said in the stands comes over to the pitch as a single sound – with the vuvuzela it does nothing else. There is a constancy to the noise which does not rise and fall between goals but far too often in British football that rise post goal comes from an often silent start.

It is a curious atmosphere in the South African stadium – we are told – and certainly when watched at home but take a South African to Valley Parade – or many other grounds – and plonk him down and he may long for the drone of vuvuzelas over the drone of negativity.

Perhaps that neutrality is the saving grace of the vuvuzela. It is a noise neither supportive nor critical, it just makes a noise which is often all that can be said about any given person at Valley Parade with everyone in the ground having heard – and probably at some point said – utterly contrary statements within the space of minutes. We have all wished that people around us could be more supportive That someone would remind the crowd what their mother’s told them about not saying anything at all if they can’t say anything nice.

In the end it all comes out as noise anyway.

Being There

O.K, so the trip to Crewe seems a life time away by now. But, while I was looking forward to a break from the football, I’m ready to get back in there. And, since there’s a competition where every game is live on TV, what better way to meet the need?

Well, lots of better ways, actually. I could take up watching some dry paint get even drier. It’s not just that the games are pretty rotten so far; it’s the atmosphere I miss. Back in the Midland Road, there’s the same voices, the same cheering and the same referee baiting that have been together for years. If the game gets a bit dull (Dull? Bradford City?), we always find something to talk about, even if it is the price of bottled water. And there is a genuine atmosphere a Valley Parade. The volume goes up and down with the ebb and flow of the game. We may not like the booing of our own team – indeed we hate it – but it does at least reflect the ups and downs of the team we support.

Watching the World Cup on the TV is a poor substitute. There’s all that incessant background noise. No, I don’t necessarily mean the vuvuzelas, although they create such a monotone that they are the very antithesis of an atmosphere. I mean the commentators and their sidekicks.

Did I want to be told, as the first game was about to start, that we should all be South Africa supporters now? Why??? Still less was the first goal ‘a goal for the whole of Africa’. You ask the Ghana supporters, the Ivory Coast lads, the Algerians and the rest of the African tribesmen. And who thought it even worth saying, as we watched a village jumping up and down to celebrate the goal scored by their local hero, that ‘football is for people’? There I was thinking it was for sheep.

So far I’ve heard only one decent joke, from Barnsley’s very own Mick McCarthy, and he could have improved on his wit if only he’d said that a Nigerian defender was so bad they named him twice. The defender, by the way, is called Odiah and if you pronounce it as though he were Irish and the ‘i’ was a double ‘e’, then you might see the joke. But we deliver better lines than that in Block B.

Of course, the one time the persistent background noise went away, it took the picture with it, unless you count the advert as being anything worth seeing (which it wasn’t). Only England could be so cruel as to score at that moment. I bet down on the pitch somebody threw up another advert right in front of Rob Green. But did he want to buy a new car? Or perhaps it was an ad for Specsavers. No, too cruel.

Anyway, with the World Cup so far failing to satisfy my need for proper football, I’m not waiting for England’s next game with bated breath. No, before then there is the much more important day when the new fixtures are released. I shall be charging up the sat-nav, digging the road map out of the car boot and getting on to those websites where cheap hotel deals are advertised.

I shall be reminding myself of how to get to the football ground nearest to the River Mersey (useless fact, except for those who thought it was Anfield, Goodison or Prenton Park) and the best M5 junction for Cheltenham. I shall especially look forward to going there, in the hope of meeting the same steward as I met last year and whom I assured, having seen City fail to score all season and then leave both Thorne and Boulding on the bench, that the game had nil-nil written all over it.

Torquay will be a must, no matter what time of year, since it allows us to see friends and family. Hereford’s another good excuse for a weekend away, if you can forget about the inside of Edgar Street.

And this year there are two new grounds. Stevenage (no longer ‘Borough’, apparently) play just down the road from my old mate John. And Oxford might be on the cards, even if the memories it will bring back will mean less to Herself than to me. In truth, any Oxford football memories do not include the Kassam stadium. The few professional games I watched there were at The Manor Ground and included a dodgy encounter one evening with some Millwall fans.

I can still claim one little bit of football history from The Manor with a game a few of us went to only because we knew it was making history. So, for the anoraks, what was (and, with the arrival of penalty shoot outs, will probably forever remain) the longest F A Cup tie on record? Now, do you dare put a comment to this piece, thus revealing yourself as an anorak (join the club)? Or do you just Google it and sit in silence? Or do you hope that our editor rescues you from your dilemma by putting in his own, doubtless correct, answer as soon as he posts this piece?

So, forget about Algeria, Slovenia and the inevitable loss on penalties to the Germans. Concentrate on Thursday morning and work up your plans for being there. Just don’t bring one of those bloody vuvuzelas or any of that lot off the telly!

Disillusioned

The World Cup evokes so many happy (and not so happy) memories. Some of my first memories are from the 1982 tournament hosted in Spain. I collected the Panini stickers, remember Bryan Robson (who’d have thought that he’d go on to manage Bradford City?) scoring inside the opening minute against France, my dad telling me that the hosts had been beaten by Northern Ireland, David Narey scoring a belter against Brazil (although Scotland still lost to Brazil) and Italy beating Brazil in an absolute classic game.

Roll on four years to Mexico 1986. England make an awful start and only qualify for the second round following an inspired performance by Peter Beardsley against Poland. Most people will tell you that it was Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland that got us past the first round but Beardsley was superb against Poland. Then we all remember Maradona’s hand of God goal and his amazing goal verses England in the quarter finals.

For me, Italia 1990 brings back the best World Cup memories; probably because we progressed to the semi finals but also because I’d finished my A-levels that year and the summer of 1990 was carefree. I have vivid memories of half dozen school mates piling round to one of my parent’s mates house (I still attend Bradford City games with him after all these years) to watch the second round game verses Belgium. What a nerve wrecker – there we were expecting penalties when up steps Gascoigne and that now famous commentary “…and chipped in and volleyed in and it’s there by David Platt, and England have done it in the last minute of extra time!” Superb! There we all were in a wild heap on the floor hugging each other whilst Waddle (who’d have thought that he’d go on and play for Bradford City?) and Butcher did a dance on the pitch. Then we had Lineker’s two penalties to squeeze past Cameroon in the quarter finals before Pearce and Waddle failed to score against West Germany in the penalty shoot in the semi finals. And all of this backed by, in my opinion, the greatest football anthem “World in Motion” by New Order.

Obviously England didn’t qualify for USA 1994 but I’m sure that we all remember Michael Owen’s wonder goal against Argentina in France 1998 and Beckham’s penalty in the 2002 World Cup to gain sweet revenge against Argentina following his sending off in France 1998 against the same team.

Lots of people are excited about the prospect of the 2010 World Cup commencing this Friday with the hosts South Africa entertaining Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. However, at the moment the prospect of the World Cup isn’t sending me into waves of emotion at all. (My wife thinks that I’m ill.)

Why is this?

  1. I’m completely disillusioned with Capello and his team selection. Why did he not pick a naturally left sided midfielder in his 23 man squad? We’ve experienced it before when the left side of midfield has been a problematic position for England. It’s a shame that we don’t have a Waddle or a Barnes. If Capello thinks that he can play Lampard and Gerrard in central midfield together, it won’t win us the World Cup. Erikkson tried the two of them together and it didn’t work then. I hope that I’m wrong about Capello but I don’t think that we will win the World Cup in South Africa. I think that it was Mike Ingham whilst commentating on the recent friendly game against Mexico who said something along the lines of “In Little Britain style, I don’t like it” when referring to Gerrard playing on the left side of midfield.
  2. I’m fed up with players being over paid. Infact, Deloitte has produced a report which shows that Premier League clubs spent £1.3bn on players wages during the 2008/2009 season. This is shocking. I also believe that some players have the wrong attitude and are too arrogant including some of the 23 players who have been picked to play for England in South Africa.
  3. Every advert, whether it’s on television or radio, at the moment is based around football. It drives me crackers.
  4. The hype that surrounds the whole tournament. It’s like Christmas with the event being “bigged up” months before the actual event. It’s all to do with money and is so commercial. The romance seems to be draining away from what is meant to be the biggest and greatest sporting event on earth.

I’m sounding like Victor Meldrew; a grumpy old man. Hopefully, when the tournament finally begins, my cynicism will disappear and my emotions will kick in. But for now, the most important day during the World Cup is 17 June when Bradford City’s fixtures come out and we can plan our trip to the Lamex Stadium!

Stop reading the papers or how I learned to stop worrying and love the World Cup

Chapter One. He adored The World Cup. He idolized it all out of proportion – er, no, make that: he – he romanticised it all out of proportion. – Yes. – To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a competition that existed in the gleaming yellow of Mexico ’70 and pulsated to the great tunes of New Order. – Er, tsch, no, missed out something. – Chapter One. He was too romantic about The World Cup, as he was about everything else. To him, The World Cup meant the beautiful game and street-smart players who seemed to know all the angles. – No, no, corny, too corny for a man of my taste.

I love the World Cup.

From the pre-tournament collections of goals which are worth seeing a thousand times to the Panini by proxy of a friend’s ten year old and his collection fo stickers. From the opening ceremony of curious lack of tedium to the first exchanges to the stressing over the performances of the England side to the glorious dawn of that nation and the cut and thrusts of Africans and Asians to burst the football bubbles of Europe – Czech Republic the second best team in the world? Tell Ghana that – and on and on and on.

I love the moments of the World Cup – Park Ju Sung’s knee taking the ball over Fabian Barthez and the reaction of William Gallas to the second French draw. For one game Zindane Zidane, Thierry Henry (Best striker in the World TM) et al are put into a situations where the fearsome reputations they have acquired are moot and they are what they are – the sum of their performance.

Stop the World Cup now and Brazil’s superstars are Kaka and a guy called Fred and not anyone called Ron-anything. The World Cup is not a respecter of reputations – it is a creator of them.

I like to think of The World Cup as a genuinely multi-polar event. Not only multi-polar but multi-objectivised. Pick any group of four and one gets a team which aims to win The World Cup, two that want to get out of the group and one which is happy to go home with heads held high. The aims of a Trinidad & Tobago are so different from those of England that when the two meet the game is not the same as a Premiership clash – even be that the opening Wigan vs Chelsea game. The fact that T&T go into today’s final group games with a chance of qualification is testament to this fact. The one point from two that was a draw they got with Sweden and wanted against England would be a poor Premiership or League One return but could go a way to seeing them through.

Multi-polar because each team has a contradictory agenda not only of success but aims to success. Svennis’s England want wins, T&T wanted a draw and to assume that desire and decent performance alone can override someone else’s agenda is to misjudge the nature of the event.

Yet it is this misjudgement which seems to govern the media.

This morning Radio Five Live talked about putting three or four past Sweden as if it were just a matter of having the will and passion to do so. The rest of the media (including BfB) suggest we have played poorly against T&T and Paraguay ignoring entirely the will of those two teams.

Both looked for the point that would have kept their World Cup alive and both could have got it. The fact that those teams are viewed on the whole in the newspapers as being the football equivalent of jam cars there to block England’s progress and not to attempt to progress themselves – even if progress comes from blanket defending – is condescending to the point of insult. It is “Johnny Foreigner can’t play” thinking.

Not that that concerns me. I have long since stopped reading newspapers and try not to pay too much attention to the corporate news media and seem to enjoy this (and perhaps other) events all the more for it. BfB match reports I write never try to tell you, dear reader, what to think of what you have seen at Valley Parade preferring to talk about reasons and ramifications. I’ll be damned if I let someone interpret what I have witnessed for me and tell me that winning 2-0 against a blanket back eight is a bad result.

I’m not going to listen to people telling me that Ronaldinho must be feared when Kaka is pulling the strings. I’m not going to hear about how if we don’t underestimate Paraguay we can give them a good pasting.

Perhaps I’m stubborn after watching twenty five years of Bradford City and a few more of Liverpool and Forest in Europe before that or perhaps I just remember the Rodney Marsh style critique of City’s Premiership chances and how poorly they were based on reality – “Watford will stay up, they were great in 1984 after all” – but I do not trust those views.

I love The World Cup. It is full of hope and joy and disappointment and consternation and is strange and brilliant and horrible and wonderful all at once. That is self-evident. Do yourself a favour and fold the paper up, do the gardening instead of watching Sky Sports and mute the TV and turn to your sofa mates to discuss the game at half and full time.

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