A rant against goal line technology (and modern football)

Although not an issue focused solely on the Football League, the hot topic is once again the introduction of goal-line technology. It seems inevitable now, but my air is one of resignation rather than anticipation. I’ve written about this before, but perhaps it bears repeating.

Yesterday, Tottenham Hotspur managed to get themselves into such a situation that the ball was millimetres from crossing their goal line. Today, the quote from their striker Emmanuel Adebayor is that they “have to blame the referee”. Spot the real mistakes and woolly thinking here.

Some people seem hell-bent on making football a game of absolutes, categorised in order of importance by the amount of money spent, when it really shouldn’t be. In fact, it says it all that the justification used for promoting the introduction of goal line technology is often the millions of pounds at stake.

This is the most spectacularly missed point of all – we are told it’s terrible that people’s jobs depend on a referee judging whether a ball crosses a line or not when we could use technology to decide. Regardless of goal line technology, the ball will still either cross the line or won’t, people will still lose their jobs (in the Premier League relegation decider scenario) and millions of pounds will still be involved.

If, like Tottenham yesterday, your team gets into a position where the ball may or may not cross the goal line, then that is your team’s fault. If you feel the outcome of an entire match depends on a ball crossing the line or not, you should perhaps pay more attention to the other 89 minutes, 59 seconds plus injury time. This isn’t to focus on Tottenham – it’s the same for any club.

The media have stoked the goal line technology debate into such a frenzy that you are labelled a luddite if you disagree with its introduction, but the media is the main reason we are in this situation in the first place. Moments are given such significance now that we are encouraged to invest the majority of our time after games in castigating officials. It provokes debate. It sells papers. It creates pageviews. It’s also making football worse, to the point where an increasing number of supporters are becoming disillusioned with the game.

The perfect blend of examining football from the outside looking in and the inside looking out, David Conn’s “The Beautiful Game?” taught me that my gut feeling about the sport in the modern era was right while Michael Calvin’s “Family” taught me that you would have to gain access to the inner circle of a football club to truly understand how it works.

And if I could pick just one noteworthy quote out of Rob Smyth and Georgina Turner’s book “Jumpers for Goalposts”, it would be a piece of post-match analysis by then England manager Bobby Robson from the late 1980s – it would have been a “travesty” if his team had won, Robson said, such was Denmark’s superiority. Not exactly the kind of thing you hear every week on Match of the Day. Instead it’s all about how referees have cheated A.N. Club out of three points.

Unfortunately, modern football’s culture of immediacy has deprived us of some great dynasties. There is no telling what some managers could have achieved had they been given more time, yet this insistence that entire careers can turn on one moment, such as a controversial goal line decision, is not helpful.

Even those who know deep down the importance of a long attachment to one club are now living in the moment and cranking up the pressure at the top of the Premier League.

In the space of two hours on one recent evening, one Neville brother laid the blame at two Manchester City players for the concession of goals and the other labelled a Manchester United goal the one that won the title. Yet just moments before Antonio Valencia’s strike that had Phil Neville wrapping the Premier League trophy in bubble wrap and scrawling Old Trafford’s postcode onto a parcel, Radio Five commentator Mike Ingham was referring back to the potential importance of Aleksander Kolarov’s equaliser against Sunderland two days previously. This is what we do – we are desperate to search for moments that we can use to give simple reasons to explain entire seasons. And then we apportion blame.

Given the current appetite for judging football on days, weeks or months rather than a number of seasons, we can’t be far away from As It Stands league tables flashing up on screen during televised games after every goal. Everyone wants to know what the gap is.

Are we not in danger of creating ever decreasing circles? When Roy Hodgson failed to live up to the standard set by Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, he was swiftly replaced. A poor run of form this season has led to Kenny Dalglish struggling to better Hodgson’s miserable tenure, a reason given by some fans for wanting another change in manager. If the next man in the hotseat makes an even worse start again, is he given the boot too? It’s a far cry from the bootroom. One journalist stated recently that Liverpool could finish 13th this season if they are overtaken by a number of teams beneath them, a statement as baseless as saying they could finish bottom next season if they lose all their games.

If I went in this direction and forever judged my team on their performance in the past couple of games, I would quickly drive myself mad. Less than a month ago, four points in two games had supporters declaring joyously that promotion was realistic on the local radio phone-in. Within days, one point from the next two fixtures resulted in one fan declaring the club “a shambles”.

In fact, the four performances in those games would probably have been very similar. Yet one will be held up as an example of what we can do when on form and another will be derided as the worst display in years. There may even have been a dodgy goal line decision in there. In short, it pays not to rely on one team scoring more goals than another to be happy.

This started with goal line technology and ended up wondering whether football makes me happy or not. Football is changing and the inevitability of goal line technology is probably the most tangible example. But it doesn’t seem to be changing for the better as far as I’m concerned.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Matt Palmer
    April 16, 2012

    I’m sorry but I don’t think your argument here is well formed at all. Although its very trendy to blame the media for all that’s wrong in the world lets have it right, we all want decisions that change games to be the right ones. Giving the officials access to technology will (as it has in a many number of other sports) mean more decisions are the correct ones which is surely a positive thing for the game as a whole right? I’ve been following Middlesbrough for 21 years and the refereeing howlers stick in my mind.

    If the ball crosses the line and isn’t given or doesn’t cross the line and is giving that lies squarely with the officials not the defending team. A good defensive performance and a poor one are separated by the tiniest of margins and if goals are given that shouldn’t, how can you possibly blame the defending team!? Utter nonsense.

    You also tackle ‘modern football’s culture of immediacy’ with the awful example of Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. Hodgson oversaw Liverpool’s worst start to a season in 82 years which included nose diving out of the league cup vs Northampton! Roy Hodgson failed to deliver at Liverpool and rightly was moved on. I’m all for giving managers a shout but come on, worst start in 82 years! He had to go.

    Lets stop harking back to the “glory days” (which never existed) and bring the greatest sport on earth into 2012 alongside pretty much every other major sport on show today.

    • theseventytwo
      April 16, 2012

      A few points:

      1) I find it difficult to underplay the media’s role here. Not just newspapers either. If it wasn’t for television highlighting it ad infinitum, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Hardly anyone in the ground at the time could see whether that Mata shot crossed the line or not, yet everyone was told straight away by phone that it hadn’t (when subsequent pictures haven’t proved quite as conclusive).

      2) The officials aren’t solely to blame for the ball getting into a position where it may or may not have crossed the line. Whether it does or not is almost immaterial given that there is so much opportunity for human error involved in football. You can’t make it all scientific and personally I don’t mind if the issue of a ball crossing the line is left to judgment too. Most of all, the media and the reactionary element of any fanbase have shown that they can’t be trusted to leave it at that if goal line technology is brought in. Then there will be even more focus on other decisions made by officials, which would be an equally bad state of affairs in my opinion.

      3) I think you’ve misinterpreted my point there about Liverpool. I wasn’t saying anything about Liverpool’s decision to sack Hodgson – it was the point that comparing (in this case) Dalglish’s start to Hodgson’s and so on is always liable to end up with a high turnover of managers, which is usually counterproductive.

  2. Ryan
    April 16, 2012

    I think GLT is the devil that will finally kill the game.I understand that bad decisions cost clubs points and money,but from our point of view (spectators) who cares? We watch the game for the buzz, the laugh with your mates and for the “I could do better” debates afterwards right?

    If you want perfect footy put your Xbox on, load FIFA and enjoy.

    There are more incorrect offsides, PK, red and yellow cards each week that cost clubs points, suspensions etc than there are goal line debates so if imperfection is the issue then bring technology in for everything and lets get it all right. Or do we just fix a small % of the problems?

    If GLT comes in the game changes and it won’t be long before we see 90 mins become 120 mins plus! Sounds great eh? This allows for more commercial activity “this replay is sponsored by..,,” and wow look we have NFL.

    The alternative is to minimise the amount of cameras Sky et al have at the game for (as above) it is they that cause these debates. That will never happen!

    Technology will protect the players and the clubs, the losers are the fans, but then hey it’s been a number of years since “our” clubs cared about us!

  3. Darren
    April 16, 2012

    Spurs still conceded another three goals after the ‘phantom’. If football teams always fall to pieces after conceding, why not just make every game ‘first goal wins’ and save the poor little loves all the trauma?

  4. Simon Hickson
    April 18, 2012

    Please check my temporary site http://www.simplesite/alvechurchcoach77

    Its so good that not everyone is a brain washed idiot desperate to change a perfectly fine and much loved sport.
    Its a brilliant post and those who dont agree go away and watch your Sky Sports and the like and join in with the band wagon jumping brainless idiots whose only answer to a simple refereeing mistake is “see we need technology”
    Have any of these people actually ever come up with an idea of how it could work without changing and eventually ruining the game????
    Leave the game alone its the worlds most popular sport for a reason and that reason has nothing to do with money or technology!!


  5. ECanalla
    April 20, 2012

    I couldn’t read beyond this: “If you feel the outcome of an entire match depends on a ball crossing the line or not, you should perhaps pay more attention to the other 89 minutes, 59 seconds plus injury time.” Yeah, if your dog was killed by a car, you should have probably thought of everything you did before that happened instead of blaming the offender. Maybe if you had decided to eat a banana before leaving at 16.00 and you’d have left at 16.01, he would be a alive, huh? Bullshit.
    Sir, you’re terrible at making your point, or maybe someone made you write this article with this opinion and you didn’t even know where to start.

    • theseventytwo
      April 20, 2012

      That is one of the silliest analogies I’ve ever heard.


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