Below is a piece from The Gooner issue 120 in 2002.
I was reminded of it by two incidents at the weekend. Firstly, Bale’s dive, which should be punished after the event. Secondly, the disallowed try at the end of England’s rugby match against Wales. The way that was handled was a lesson to FIFA, the FA and football in general. If you didn’t see it, this is what happened:
- England had to score a converted try to draw the match in the last play, and they got the ball over the line in a tangle of players from both sides
- The referee and linesman couldn’t be sure the ball had been touched down successfully by the England player on the right side of the line
- The referee referred to the video official in the stands and asked for a decision
- The video official studied the footage in slow motion from all the available angles, then gave his decision – in this case no try, as it was not conclusive that the ball was correctly touched down
- Once the referee was told that the evidence was not conclusive, he checked his understanding of the rules with the video official to ensure his next action (in this case to end the game) was correct
Though the actual decision to disallow the try is largely irrelevant, the way the decision was reached is hugely instructive.
- At all times the referee’s conversation with the video official could be heard by the TV audience and commentators
- The same replays the video official was watching could be seen by the TV audience and commentators
- The referee openly checked his action in advance with another official to make sure he got a potentially result-changing decision correct
So one simple question:
WHY THE HELL DOES FOOTBALL NOT FOLLOW THE SAME PROTOCOLS?
Here’s the piece from 2002 – still relevant, apart from any predictions of us winning the League this year . . .
In my opinion a lot of the big problems in football these days are caused by one thing: every millisecond of every match is filmed from a dozen angles and inspected in great detail and at enormous length by every TV station and newspaper hack. Right decisions, wrong decisions, offsides, free-kicks, penalty appeals, bookings, sendings off, managers bawling at referees, the crowd bawling at players, players bawling at everyone; it’s all on show.
This should mean that it’s easy to sort out mistakes, and justice is always done under the ever-watchful eye of the good old FA. The trouble is, the good old FA is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes they like to investigate, and sometimes they don’t. Three match ban, one match ban or no ban at all? Depends what day it is and what colour shirt the player was wearing.
The constant scrutiny of the cameras also means that referees are under huge pressure and can never please everyone. It probably also leads to a higher number of errors and inconsistencies. Naturally, Arsenal players are right in the thick of it, with several bans coming up after an assortment of recent offences. As I write Dennis has just been handed a three match ban for ‘violent conduct’ against a Mr Carragher of Liverpool. Now this is certainly inconsistent, as players who have physically injured opponents have got off unpunished, while Bergie didn’t touch Carragher. Surely at worst it was ‘attempted violent conduct’? And to paraphrase Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons, you don’t get a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry, so how come a three match ban for not even making contact?
But I do have some sympathy with Premiership referees these days. However fit they are they can’t possibly keep up with play that sweeps from one end of the pitch to the other in a couple of seconds, or run alongside Thierry Henry or Michael Owen and see what they’re doing, or what defenders are doing to them. Mistakes are going to be made and noticed. Add to this the continual rule changes and new directives and the problems mount up. So how can things be improved? Well if every incident is going to be scrutinised anyway, then one way to help them is to make better use of video evidence.
There are of course two possible uses for the video: while the game is going on, and to sort things out afterwards.
Arsenal have long been on the wrong end of ‘sorting things out’, going way back to Paul Davis’s right hook on Glenn Cockerill and the brawl and two point deduction of 1991. More recently against Blackburn Oleg became number 43 in Arsene’s red army. His second booking came when Tugai dived, then grinned broadly as Nolegs walked off. Now if I understand the rules correctly, there is no right of appeal for the second yellow, and as the ref saw the whole incident and acted on it, however wrongly, the FA won’t investigate. So Tugai gets away with his cheating, Luzhny gets a ban for the sending off and we were forced to play with 10 men. Surely this is just when the FA should investigate? Luckily in this case the result wasn’t affected, but do they want to stamp out cheating or not? The principle of not undermining the referee can be taken too far.
Diving is something Arsenal seem to be suffering from more than most. Players have generally got the message that the Ginola/Klinsmann type of dive, where there’s no contact but the diver still manages a somersault with pike and twist, is a little obvious. But as players get more subtle, referees’ problems increase. Was Gio diving when he was sent off for it in December? There was contact with the defender, but it’s impossible to say how much. Durkin the Gherkin did at least try and explain why he’d sent Gio off, but he was wrong to brandish the red in a case that was far from clear cut. If Gio hadn’t already been booked then a yellow might have been forgivable, but sending a player off under such circumstances is surely wrong. Gio’s case was not even settled by repeated video viewing. Referees have admitted that they may make mistakes while trying to eradicate diving, which may be acceptable, but reducing a team to 10 men by a ‘mistake’ is going a bit far.
A variant of the normal dive is when an attacker meets an advancing keeper, knocks the ball past him and goes down under the challenge. Freddie won a penalty against Liverpool by not making any effort to keep his legs out of the way when he was clattered. Was that a dive? Blanc won a spot kick for Man Utd against Blackburn with an even more blatant ‘oops, my legs are paralysed’ fall, but strangely this didn’t seem to be frowned upon. I suppose in most cases this is nothing too much to worry about, except when the keeper has clearly not made any contact at all. Robbie Fowler admitting that Seaman didn’t touch him a couple of years ago springs to mind. (I’m still irritated that a) the ref didn’t take his word for it, and b) Fowler didn’t see fit to deliberately miss to make it fair.) Still, the only way of correcting that by video would have been to change the result of the game afterwards, which is really a step too far.
As with many things, refs could involve their linesmen more in making decisions on diving. They often have a better view, but are rarely consulted. Diving needs to be eradicated, but unless it’s clear cut then awarding a free kick seems punishment enough to me.
For the sake of consistency the FA must also be prepared to investigate every incident, whether the ref has already taken action or not. When Le Saux decided to stick his knee into Paddy recently he got a yellow card, but should have been sent off. Why shouldn’t it be upgraded after the event? Not only that, but as rules currently stand, it’s possible to appeal against a red card, but not a yellow. I’m not even going to bother explaining why this is stupid, except to say that almost 700 yellow cards had been issued in the Premiership this season up to the start of January. What are the odds that every one was a correct decision? If the powers that be really want to stamp out cheating then they’re going to have to be bit more flexible with the rules.
However, there’s no point catching the bad boys if they’re not going to get a punishment that hurts. Unless you actually go on a drunken rampage in, say, Leeds city centre and give someone a good kicking, the maximum fine for footballers’ bad behaviour is two weeks’ wages. To me and you that might be a serious inconvenience. To a multi-millionaire in no danger of losing his job it’s like an episode of You’ve Been Framed – bloody irritating, but only for about half an hour. If the fine was two months’ wages for every incidence of violent conduct, then Danny Mills would probably have to take a part time job to make ends meet. The only trouble is that this would need to be a UEFA policy or it’s adios to Paddy for a start.
Using video replays during the game is a more contentious issue. Arsene has suggested that managers should be allowed to challenge a referee’s decisions mid-match, with reference to a fourth official in front of a TV screen. This seems a surefire way to undermine the officials. I’m glad Le Boss is not the sort of manager who advances to the touchline every other minute to berate the referee and give TV viewers lip-reading practice, but his strategic blindness doesn’t support the officials much either. If video replays are to judge decisions during the game this must surely be the ref’s (or other official’s) decision, not anyone else’s.
Newcastle got a penalty against us that basically won them the game, when an official in front of a TV screen could have confirmed within seconds that Sol’s tackle was fair. No need for Thierry’s tantrums and no effect on our championship challenge. Even the Newcastle fans could surely not have objected to being denied a penalty by the tackle being proved to be good. The only problem is where to draw the line. All I can suggest is that the fourth official watches his screen and uses some sensible discretion. If he sees something off the ball he can draw the ref’s attention to it by a radio link, and if the ref wants a second opinion he can ask in the same way. So I say bring on the video evidence – but only when it’s really needed, or every match will last longer than the Superbowl.
There are some problems that video can’t solve. For example, there’s nothing more frustrating than players faking injury to waste time. Fortunately in Britain we don’t see too much of this except in European matches. A ref with any savvy will add time on to make up for the endless rolling about, but offenders usually gamble that this ‘punishment’ will do their team no real harm, and they’ll waste more time than gets added. But there’s an easy way to cut this out: players already have to leave the pitch after receiving attention, so all the ref needs to do is make them wait a bit longer to come back on. About five minutes should do it. Make it ten for a second offence, and the problem could be solved faster than Spurs’ title hopes disappear.
Refs could also help themselves by speaking to the players before kick-off, just to warn them what will be allowed and what won’t. Then there could be no complaint if a booking was dished out the first time studs were shown. The officials could have a radio link to the PA system, as already happens in other sports. The crowd and TV viewers would hear warnings and know whether decisions were justified.
One suggestion I’m not in favour of is the sin bin. I always think this could make a mockery of the numbers on the pitch, and anyway how would you ever decide whether an offence deserved a booking, the sin bin, sending off or none of them? But even without that I reckon a few of the measures above could have reduced our current rash of suspensions. I know there’s little chance of any of them being implemented, but actually I’m not really worried – Arsenal always do better when everyone’s against us. This just might be our year!