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The phantom menace

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Clint Hill’s ‘ghost goal’ for Queen’s Park Rangers on Saturday has once again jerked the knee of English football.

Hill’s ‘goal’ – ‘scored’ after 20 minutes of QPR’s clash with Bolton Wanderers, when the score was still 0-0 – should clearly have been awarded. The ball was a foot or two over the line. Despite the pace of the action, the fact the Bolton’s goalkeeper, Adam Bogdan, pushed the ball forward onto the crossbar should have been a clear signal to the assistant referee that a goal had been scored.

However, this is not an issue of ‘technology’. Sky may have managed to show that the ball had crossed the line in an instant, but it so fundamentally clear – from the physics of the situation, and the reactions of players on both sides – that a video replay should be superfluous. If we need video replays of these incidents, we have a more fundamental and pressing problem.

In other situations, there may be more justification for another look: Frank Lampard’s effort for England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, and Pedro Mendes ‘goal’ for Tottenham against Manchester United five years ago are celebrated incidents. In those cases, the assistant referee could only guess, with the speed of the play outpacing any official in those circumstances. (Perhaps the extra officials behind the goals, much derided by lazy, hard-of-thinking commentators, would come into their own in these circumstances?)

Are we to look forensically at all pushes, trips, dives and falls to determine the existence or not of foul play? It’s not a can of worms being opened; it’s a barrel-full of vipers

Yet for me, technology is not the answer. If Hill’s goal is to stand, are we to look back on the (incorrect) award of a corner kick to QPR in the first place? What about an incorrect offside decision, or a throw-in given to the wrong team? Are we to look forensically at all pushes, trips, dives and falls to determine the existence or not of foul play? It’s not a can of worms being opened; it’s a barrel-full of vipers.

Cricket has shown how the use of technology, originally to adjudge run-outs, can been extended to other areas, using HawkEye, snickometer and hot spots as well as the naked eye. Rugby officials don a jeweller’s eyepiece to see whether a foot has brushed a whitewashed blade of grass or nicked a corner flag. The result may be a greater number of correct decisions – but the rates are not significantly higher. (Whisper it: referees and umpires are usually right – and players and managers are more often than not architects of their own downfall.)

Use of technology would harm the essential relentlessness of a football match

The result is also a slower game, and one that privileges the TV viewer over the unenlightened spectator. This slowing of the pace may be fine in the stop-go worlds of cricket and rugby, but it would harm the essential relentlessness of a football match. Football is chaos, and all the better for it. It doesn’t need sanitising.

The harsh reality for players, managers, chairmen and supporters is that such decisions, while frustrating, even infuriating, do not make or break a season or (generally) even a match. QPR will not go down due to the ‘ghost goal’. They will go down due to ill-discipline among their players, naive tactics and poor organisation, and not being good enough. Pleas for ‘technology’ are often just a smokescreen to cover a multitude of other failings.


Image: Nathan Rogers on Unsplash

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