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Friday, Jan. 7, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Hysterical reaction to 'Worst Decision Of All Time'


LONDON -- The reaction was as predictable as it was hysterical and misplaced.

Christopher Davies

Yes, the 40-meter lob by Tottenham's Pedro Mendes that was fumbled by Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll was at least two feet (60 cm) over the line by the time the Northern Ireland international scooped the ball away.

Instead of winning 1-0 with a last-minute goal, Tottenham left Old Trafford on Tuesday night with just a point and as is so often the case,the finger was pointed at the match officials.

In an ideal world, Rob Lewis, the assistant referee, would have been in a position to judge correctly what had happened. But then in an ideal world Carroll would not have allowed the ball to slip from his grasp (the Northern Ireland goalkeeper used his entire year's supply of Get Out of Jail Free cards in one game) and no striker would ever miss a goal.

It has been called the Worst Decision Of All Time by the red tops -- never ones to sit on the fence. And they go on to say that Lewis should be suspended, fired or sent to the Tower of London.

Those who shout the loudest tend to have the weakest grasp of reality. They say of goal-line technology "bring it in" but the "it" isn't available and will not be for a few years, if ever.

Still, never let such things interfere with a nice bit of hysteria.

I asked a number of high-profile observers -- journalists, administrators and managers -- to name the previous over-the-line controversy in the Premiership. Not one could.

"There was one in a Cup tie at Crystal Palace a few years ago . . . the Romania vs. Bulgaria Euro '96 tie . . . "

The fact is there are very few incidents when the goal-line technology would be used even if it was available. Estimated costs vary, but $100,000 per goal has been spoken of.

Can anyone seriously see the 20 Premier League clubs forking out such a sum for technology that might be used, say, once every two seasons?

United could have paid for goal-line technology that would have benefited its opponents and cost the home club three points instead of the one point it won in the 0-0 draw.

Good investment, huh?

Is it really worth all the fuss for perhaps five incidents a Premiership season?

UNLIKE OTHER sports most refereeing decisions in football are subjective.

In cricket a player is either run out or not. In the National Football League, for instance, a player has either stepped out of bounds or he is still in play. They are black and white verdicts with little or no room for argument.

Apart from offside (a can of worms in itself) and the ball going over the line, there is little about football that is certain.

Did a player deliberately handle the ball or was it ball to hand?

Was the tackle of excessive force or a fair challenge?

One of the beauties of football is that there is always so much to discuss and video replays would solve little.

How many times have you attended or watched a game and disagreed with those around you?

A so-called TV review official in the stand would only give people another match official to berate.

Having the referee review a play on the sidelines would solve little. In American football, cricket or both codes of rugby there are natural breaks in play -- in contrast, football is a constant action sport. Spectators would soon become fed up with video reviews and having spoken to referees, a second look is not guaranteed to change their opinion.

They say that what they have initially seen is still in their mind and that, in effect, is what they see again whatever the video may in fact show.

The only aspect of the game where referees and FIFA are in favor of electronic assistance is to help determine whether the ball has crossed the line. For the rest, we must accept human errors from referees and linesmen -- honest mistakes as opposed to the dishonest diving and cheating we see from players.

AT NEXT MONTH'S meeting of the International Football Association Board, FIFA's law-making body, in Cardiff, Wales, Adidas will make a presentation with a ball which has a microchip in the middle. The goal-mouths will have the necessary sensors set-up for the experiment, similar to the "Cyclops" system already used in tennis.

Yet however well the experiment goes, there are still many hurdles to overcome before any such goal-line technology is introduced.

STATISTICS SHOW THAT 98 percent of decisions made by assistants are correct. Of course, it is the two per cent that hit the headlines -- especially if one of them involves Manchester United.

So was Rob Lewis at fault?

Video replays showed the ball at least two feet (60 cm) over the line -- it wasn't even close.

Keith Hackett, general manager of the Premiership's select group of referees, empathized with Lewis's plight in the wake of calls to have the linesman reprimanded.

Hackett, who was at Old Trafford for the match, said: "From my elevated view in the stand the ball looked over (the line.) But Rob was stood in a position to monitor offside.

"The ball moved at huge pace down the field and though Rob's a fit lad, he had less than three seconds to cover 40 meters down the line to be in a position to make a judgment.

"I do not want any of my officials to second guess, they have to be 100 percent certain. Rob is an exceptional and competent official and did all in his power to make a judgment. His disappointment is large but he could not have done any more."

For his part, Lewis believes he would have needed the speed of an Olympic sprinter to be in the correct position -- effectively by the corner flag -- to determine beyond doubt whether the ball had crossed the goal-line. He was not helped by the fact Carroll's body was between him and the ball.

He said: "I pride myself on being relatively fast over a short distance but by the time the ball landed I was still 25 yards (22.5 meters) away from goal and it was impossible from that distance to judge whether it had crossed the line.

"I am disappointed because I always like to get decisions right. I've thought about it a lot since and there was nothing I could have done differently -- apart from run faster than Linford Christie."



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