Over the weekend, the debate over goalline technology resurfaced as Queens Park Rangers defender Clint Hill’s header against Bolton Wanderers clearly crossed the line with assistant referee Bob Pollock claiming he was unable to see due to a Bolton defender on the line blocking his view. Hot on the heels of the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) announcement that they were committed to accepting technology, and that they would be reviewing two systems in the summer. It now seems inevitable that goalline technology will be introduced to football sooner rather than later, and many media outlets were unable to contain their glee at this development, with one sportswriter on Sky Sports Sunday Supplement claiming that it was football’s embarrassment that it had so far resisted the introduction of technology, although like the rest of the pro-technology lobby, no-one comes up with an answer to some of the logistical questions raised here two years ago. But does the media’s agenda just lie with wanting to improving the game, or is there more to it?
The rolling report on the incident on Sky Sports News was revealing. As well as a plea from Sky Sports’ main analyser Gary Neville saying that technology has to come in because of the sheer number of times these incidents have decided championships and relegations, and how replays can give an instant decision on whether the ball has crossed the line. In Neville’s twenty year career, I don’t recall a goalline incident involving the title race (which is not to say one never happened), and the only time it has had any real effect on relegation was in the 1997 game between Bolton Wanderers and Everton. It could be argued that the decision made on the day decided the relegation battle (as Sky implied), but in fairness that match took place on September 1st, and Bolton Wanderers had another 34 games after the decision to recover their season. Given the countless times that we’re told that these goalline incidents happen, it seemed odd that Sky didn’t come up with any other examples.
One incident Sky didn’t use was the less famous example from the 2010 World Cup, where Fabio Qualiarella’s shot against Slovakia is cleared on, or from over the line by Martin Skrtel (The shot comes around the 1:55 mark on this clip). The Youtube highlights, taken from the BBC, show five different angles. The game on the day (that I covered on the site here) featured more angles and more replays, all of which are just as conclusive. After saying that it would have been a vital goal for Italy to have scored at the time – it would have been an equalizer at 1-1, instead Slovakia would take a 2-0 lead minutes layer – Mark Lawrenson instead proclaims (at the 10:00 mark) on that night’s Match of the Day roundup that “It was difficult to say whether it was over the line or not, and if the assistant referee doesn’t think it is, he doesn’t give it”, which is a much more measured and reasoned response that the “THANK YOU SEPP BLATTER” wail from the England-Germany game three days later.
As well as Gary Neville’s plea, Sky decided to include a short interview with Shay Given in there piece, where Given would refer to the Thierry Henry incident (in the Republic of Ireland and France playoff for the 2010 World Cup) as an example of why technology needed to come in. Which is a strange argument to put forward for goalline technology, as goalline technology would confirm nothing more than the fact that the French goal had crossed the line, with none of the proposed systems are suggesting they can cover handballs several yards away. The cynical would suggest that including Given’s interview to remind the viewer of other refereeing travesties would be to plant the seed after the introduction of goalline technology, that goalline technology would not be enough. A betting man would place money on this not being the case for Sky – after all, someone would need to provide instant replays for TV Officials, in the same was that they do for Rugby League games. Or at least the Rugby League games that Sky broadcast live, as these are the only ones that benefit from technology. If the game is not live on TV, then the game relies on mere humans making all of the decisions instead.
Back to the game that started the debate, and while Queens Park Rangers were denied a legitimate goal, suggestions that this may be the difference between them being in the Premier League and the Championship seemed to skip over the build-up to QPR’s goal, which saw Djibril Cisse equalise despite being offside when Shaun Wright-Phillips provided him with the assist, so it can be easily argued in this case that the decisions have evened themselves out. Mark Hughes only seemed to have an issue with the Hill ‘goal’. Hughes’ post match comments centred around the Football Association’s commitment to goalline technology, and accused them of protecting poor officials, saying that officials simply need to “be better” and that “You can’t hide behind the fact there isn’t the technology to cover up a poor performance”. With Queens Park Rangers sitting currently in the relegation zone, having picked up just one win and five points in the seven league games that Hughes has been in charge, maybe they are charges that he should be aiming at himself and his players.