The ‘goal that never was’ – Is goal line technology the answer?

After another high-profile “phantom goal” in the Championship, the debate surrounding goal line technology has once again been rekindled. We take a look at this most recent episode, as well as previous controversies, and ask if football should become more high-tech.

They say that lightning never strikes twice, but try telling that to a Crystal Palace fan. Almost 29 years ago, in September 1980, the Eagles were playing a league match at Coventry City when striker Clive Allen was involved in a ‘goal’ that lives long in the memories of all Palace faithful. Allen was awarded a free-kick just outside of the area, which he duly hammered past the helpless keeper. The ball, however, flew back out of the net after hitting the stanchion inside the goal, and despite clearly crossing the line – even appearing to bulge the net – both linesman and referee ruled that the ball never crossed the line. Palace went on to lose the match.

Fast-forward to the present season, and the Eagles’ luck seems to still be out, with a remarkably similar incident occurring in their Championship match with Bristol City at Ashton Gate. The player in question this time was young striker Freddie Sears, on loan from West Ham, who neatly finished past goalkeeper Dean Gerken after a flick-on from Alassane N’Diaye. He ran away celebrating as any player would after scoring his first goal for his new club. Or so he thought, as no-one could quite believe what was to come.

Just like Allen’s effort, the ball hit the stanchion – this time at the back of the goal – and bounced back into the penalty area, causing uncertainty in referee Rob Shoebridge’s mind. Bristol City supporters in the stand behind knew it had crossed the line, as did both sets of players – you could tell by their different reactions – but controversy reigned when, after consulting with his linesman, Shoebridge awarded a goalkick as opposed to signalling towards the centre circle.

Unsurprisingly, Crystal Palace manager Neil Warnock was livid at the decision, and a late winner from City’s Nicky Maynard did nothing to appease his mood: “We can put a man on the moon, time serves of 100-miles-per-hour at Wimbledon, yet we cannot place a couple of sensors in a net to show when a goal has been scored…We were cheated. And I’m not saying that against the referee because he didn’t mean to get it wrong.”

Warnock’s post-match comments openly support the use of technology in football, something which would have eradicated last season’s equally contentious “goal” in a Championship match at Vicarage Road, where Watford were taking on Reading. This time a goal was awarded to the visitors by referee Stuart Atwell on the advice of his linesman, who thought he had seen the ball cross the goal line. In fact the ball was nowhere near, yet the “goal” stood, causing then Watford’s manager Aidy Boothroyd to compare the bizarre incident to a ‘UFO landing’. The game ended 2-2.

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Goal line technology – what could be implemented?

The most commonly suggested form of technology which could aid referees when confronted with dubious situations is inserting a microchip into the actual football. Named the ‘Intelligent Ball’ by developers Adidas, the microchip would react with a magnetic field inside the goal (created by magnetic wires around the posts) and signal to the officials that the ball has crossed the line.

“The purpose of the Adidas intelligent ball and goal line technology is to provide greater transparency during a match and to assist the referee in making quick decisions that can impact the outcome and quality of the game.” says Hans-Peter Nuernberg, Senior Development Engineer for the Adidas Innovation Team. The trajectory of the ball would supposedly be unaffected, although after tests in the 2007 Fifa Club World Cup in Japan, Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf did say the ball was “a little difficult to control.”

This form of technology has been deemed successful by Adidas, but curiously no statistics regarding the degree of accuracy at the Club World Cup were released. Nuernberg himself admitted that Adidas will “continue to refine the system so that it is 100% accurate,” suggesting it is not yet totally trustworthy. The expense of the technology is another concern, and this was cited by Sepp Blatter as one of the reasons why FIFA are currently in favour of putting the whole thing on ice.

Where do we draw the line?

For as long as we have controversial decisions, there will be pressure on FIFA to reconsider their stance on goal line technology. However, until it is proved 100% accurate it cannot be introduced. Modern technology is not flawless, and making decisions based on computers may in fact cause more disagreement than we are already faced with.

If we allow technology to dictate goals, what comes next? A disputable offside call, or a questionable red card? We run the risk of slowing down our beautiful game if we are forever consulting a technological second opinion. Fast-paced free-flowing football is what makes this sport so excitable, and we must not jeopardize this in any way.

Is it not the controversy and debate which keeps us so engrossed? If every decision is perfect, what will we debate at work on a Monday morning, or on the coach back from a long away game. Football should be maintained as it is – it has, after all, been doing pretty well for centuries without the aid of microchips and magnetic fields. Goal line technology could threaten our beautiful game, and should be permanently suspended. Neil Warnock may disagree.

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