Blog: Do we really want “perfect” refereeing?

Another weekend goes by and once again the fallout is dominated by a refereeing decision. John Baines asks, do we really want football officiated without error?

Was it a goal? Certainly nobody seemed to know the exact ruling, perhaps because there isn’t an exact ruling. Inevitably the opposing players, managers and fans parted to either side of the ethical line whilst stood conferring somewhere between a rock and a hard place was the referee and his assistant. Goal. One side incensed, one elated.

Of course, Tom Huddlestone’s was-it-wasn’t-it offside goal for Tottenham Hotspur against Fulham just two weekends ago is just one of the many hotly debated goals that command airtime. Just this week for example, Spurs ironically got the rough end of the knuckle when Mark Clattenburg allowed Nani’s goal to stand after Heurelho Gomes’s brain freeze. Harry Redknapp may now be hauled up before the FA for christening the decision ‘scandalous’ and ‘farcical’, but aren’t you a couple of points better off Harry?

Sandwiching the two perceived injustices – of which Redknapp chose to criticise just one – was UEFA President Michel Platini’s insistence that UEFA are not seeking to turn to technology in order to aid referees. He talked down the introduction of goal-line cameras and video refereeing referral systems, as they would lead to ‘playstation football’. Quite what he meant by reference to the name of a key and lucrative Champions League sponsor isn’t that clear, although we get the picture. The UEFA and FIFA stance is that they are quite happy to have the game officiated by humans, which will invariably lead to human error. I for one, completely agree with them.

If you take a look at the options available to implement, none would comprehensively, completely eradicate any mistakes in the game anyway. The most vociferous calls are for the implementation of cameras on the line to indicate when a ball has crossed. The argument here is that a goal should or should not be allowed if it has or has not been legitimately scored.

That’s a fair claim, but what happens when somebody scores from a blatantly offside position. What is the difference here? Essentially, the linesman is making decisions based on ‘lines’, whether literal or hypothetical, the man with the flag is looking across seventy yards of turf unaided, and must make a judgement in a split second. If the Blues have a goal disallowed because the camera’s showed the ball didn’t cross the line, why should the Reds goal be allowed to stand when the striker was three yards offside? Would this circumstance make our game any fairer than it is currently?

Bowing to ‘only’ introducing goal-line cameras would be the thin end of the wedge, and without doubt would eventually lead to further interferences elsewhere. It only takes one major incident to spark and ignite the many cinders of smaller claims which gather each and every week and before long, we would be refereed by some Pontius Pilate overlord sat like a Bond-villain in front of a wall of screens. Not exactly jumpers for goalposts.

Again, this scenario is far from foolproof. Take the Nani goal on Saturday, who was right and wrong there? Harry Redknapp certainly thought the officials got it wrong, but would our man looking at the ‘wall of justice’ have done any different? If he had, we still would have been talking about the incident now because Sir Alex Ferguson would have been booking himself an appointment with the FA instead.

Many decisions are far from clear cut which is why the idea of policing our game through the introduction of cameras and technology is a futile idea. Far too many of the disputed decisions are just that, disputed. The main protagonists are the ones directly involved. There are victims and perpetrators and never can anybody be fully appeased. We cannot wholly eradicate error from our officiating, and if even the most sophisticated schemes will still lead to dispute, controversy and more Andy Gray, why change and devalue our sport in the first place?

To think that today’s football is any more important than any previous days is arrogant and egotistical. We do not need complete and utter fairness in our system, it has never been that way yet that has never diminished, only fuelled the appeal of football as a sport. If somebody wins a game through good fortune, so be it. The record books show the winners, but it does not tell the whole picture of the piece of the unfortunate finalists or hard done by favourites undone by a dodgy goal in the semi’s. Behind every winner there are losers and those losses can be unfair. But isn’t life? Is that why we relate so well to fate and fortune?

Swings and roundabouts and rubs of the green. Doesn’t it just make football better?

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