2013 saw the inevitable introduction of goal line technology being used in the Barclay’s Premier League. Previously, from green field to babbling brook every man, his dog and the kitchen sink were screaming from the top of their lungs, ‘GIVE US GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY! WE DEMAND CLARITY AND CONSISTANCY, AND WE WANT IT NOW!’ Or something like that. The high lords at FIFA inexplicably heard the pleas and GLT, or GDT, or GDS began to be rolled out for stress test, and rolled it did all the way to the English topflight. Now that it’s finally here, should they have listened to the man, the dog and the sink in the first place?
My first gripe with the digital age of football begins with money. The Premier League is filthy rich and implementing an electronic system to determine whether a football has crossed the goal line is, for the most, a simple thing. A few thrown quid at Hawk-eye and bingo-bango, a system that talks to the referee, and talks to Sky Sports, and everybody is happy. But will the FA, without the financial might of the Premier League looming over it like a loan shark on collection day, be willing or able to roll out an identical system to the rest of the football league, or the conference south, or the Association County League, or any league in the 24 tiers of English football. Well, no it won’t. Certainly not in the foreseeable future and this is where an imbalance begins. The sheer volume of wealth pooling its self in the top fight is already creating a divide between the Premier League mainstays, and the rest of the football league. A typical upstairs downstairs affair. Adding technology into the mix can only increase this divide between the have and the have-nots.
Football is the biggest game in the world and its integral asset is its universal appeal. People from all walks of life, regardless of social background or environment, fanatically hand over their spare time to it. What makes it so universal is everyone plays the same game. From The Kings Arms versus The Fox & Goose in the Sandwell and District league, to Bayern Munich versus Brussia Dortmund in the Champions League Final, it’s exactly the same game. Two teams of eleven, a ref, and a couple of lino’s (or if not actual assistant referee’s then maybe the right backs dad, or Dave’s uncle, or a sub who’s blatantly not going to get a game) all singing from the same rulebook. The introduction of electronically assisted decision making just pushes these two fixtures further apart. They are now not the same. Like wearing someone else’s pants, it just feels different. Wrong. But it won’t end there, mark my words. When Hawk-eye has fully nested itself in, video replays and off-field 5th officials reviewing incidents in tiny rooms hovering above the pitch will not be far behind. And this will only widen the chasm in football further.
Finance and logistics aside, the other elephant in the room happens to be the champion of technology naysayers: debate. If every decision in the game is completely accurate to micro precision, then what happens to all the fun?
Football, as it has been said, is game of opinions. Everyone has one and pretty much everyone goes out of their way to express it. Talking about the beautiful game is just as much a part of football as the matches themselves. RE: BT Sports 73 hour build up to the FA Cup final. Without the inconsistencies and controversies that humans bring, the fans on terraces and in pubs would be silent. Bloggers would free up mountains of bandwidth, and television punditry would be a lost art. What else could Jamie Redknapp do? The discussions, debates and arguments are the life blood of football fandom and hours of chin wagging following the big game is what most of us live for. It’s as much a part of the match day experience as picking apart the team selection, a balti pie, or extortionate match day parking, or even the football itself. The errors of judgement from officials only reinforce our emotional attachment to the game bringing joy and hilarity at the misfortune of others, and unearthing anger, frustration, and woe deep from within then allowing it all to erupt in cathartic vitriol. Just imagine how all those suppressed emotions in repressed middle aged men may manifest themselves. I dread to think.
Remove the debate and remove the thing that makes football so intriguing and interesting. Remove the human, remove the fun.
With all that’s been said I’m not here to advocate incorrect decisions. Lampard, Hurst, Garcia and countless more have all suffered, or benefitted, at the hands of an uncertain referee’s call and in reality, most of us would like to see the correct outcome. Ironically, a fitting alternative is already being used in the shape of the much maligned ‘behind the goal officials’. Additional assistant referees, one for each edge of the pitch, is a cheap, simple, and logical solution. One that can easily be rolled out to all levels of football keeping the game universal once more (while still keeping the human error facture intact for the lol’s).
For better or worse technology is here, but where will it end? GLT is just the beginning, and with FIFA wanting to protect their big money product, more measures will be brought in to highlight the ‘fairness’ of their flagship competitions. All the time making the elite more elite, and leaving the chaff to fend for themselves.