The stakes are high, it’s the FA Cup semi-final and Chelsea are 1-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur in a closely contested game at Wembley. Early doors in the second half and, amidst a scramble from a Chelsea corner, the ball is prodded goalwards by Juan Mata. In the ensuing melee the ball bounces back out off a mixture of John Terry, Ledley King and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Mata wheels away in celebration and, after a moment’s hesitation, referee Martin Atkinson awards the goal. The linesman is in a difficult position as he is obstructed by a number of bodies so he can’t make the call. Replays show that the ball is nowhere near over the line and Spurs, incandescent with rage, crumble away and end up losing the game 5-1 to their London rivals.
It’s that age-old debate creeping up on all us football enthusiasts once again – should goal-line technology be introduced to the game? Other sports utilise video replays and utilise them well, rugby for example benefits from it when a debatable try has been scored. Tennis too when a ball is slammed between those white lines for an ace or a return. However, football’s governing body, FIFA, have thus far opted to steer clear, insisting that it will take away the element of human error and break up the continuity of the game. Think about it for one second and, be honest, it’s quite hard to imagine a game being paused for a moment or so while a big screen dictates whether the ball has crossed the line or not. It’s almost…not right. Not in keeping with how we view or enjoy the game.
However, the longer the game continues without it the more it seems necessary to introduce it. Surely it’s only a matter of time given that two games in English domestic competition have featured key moments that roused the debate for goal line technology this season alone. Prior to Juan Mata’s ‘goal’ at Wembley on Sunday, QPR defender Clint Hill scored a header at the Reebok Stadium to put his side 1-0 up against Bolton Wanderers back in March…or did he? No, despite meeting a corner from Joey Barton full-on and nodding the ball about a yard over the line, his celebrations were cut short and play was waved on. Replays on this occasion – in contrast to the Wembley incident – show that the ball had, without doubt, crossed the line. Rangers went on to lose the game and are fighting for their lives down in the bottom three of the Premier League.
These are incidents that can potentially change the course of games. Who’s to say that, had Clint Hill’s header been allowed or Juan Mata’s goal not been given that each game would’ve swung in the opposite direction? It’s just too hard to say, but what can be without question is that these incidents aren’t minor footnotes, they’re not talking points to gloss over, they’re major issues in the game and they’re moments that affect the course of matches – important matches. The ones aforementioned are primary examples. So, while it is correct that the human element of it is key for post-match debate and gives onus to the officials to make tough decisions, it simply glosses over the true matter at hand. We all know that Hill’s header was a goal and Mata’s prod wasn’t; it’s relatively as simple as that. Sepp Blatter and his cohorts must revise their ideas post-haste for fear of moments such as these becoming less isolated and more a case of another incident that stokes the debate.
We managed with the back-pass rule and the reinvention of offside, I’m pretty sure we’ll manage with this one. Time for a change.
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