Following Frank Lampard's disallowed goal against Germany, and then Carlos Tevez's goal against Mexico which in turn was allowed, despite an impromptu video replay in the stadium showing that Tevez was conspicuously offside, the cry has been renewed for video technology to be introduced into the “multi-million pound” world of football, as a matter of urgent common sense. Frank Lampard wants it. Tim Henman wants it, as does Sue Barker, who interviewed him the day after at Wimbledon. Gary Lineker certainly wants it. (This is far too important an issue for the BBC to maintain its customary effort at impartiality). Smarting redly at England's ignominious defeat against Germany, Lineker muttered to Match Of The Day panellists Hansen and Shearer that video technology was something for which “everyone” was clamouring but which was denied solely because of the obduracy of “Sepp Blatter and his cronies”.
Now, there are doubtless plenty of reasons to narrow one's eyes in the direction of Sepp Blatter, as well as the dubious operations of FIFA. However, in this context, Blatter's role is the nebulous one of greasy, foreign Head Gnome, acting in an arbitrary and high-handed way, his agenda, like that of Michel Platini, to do England down.
However, wrong as he may be in all kinds of ways and about all kinds of things, Blatter is right to rule out video technology. This is not to say that mistakes have not been made, will be made. However, so it has been since the beginning of footballing time. They are a very occasional hazard, rather than fatal occurrences. In 1932, for example, in what became known as the “over the line” final, Newcastle beat Arsenal following an equaliser from a long ball which according to photographic evidence crossed the dead ball line before winger Jimmy Richardson crossed it back into play. Unfortunate, but hardly the ruin of Arsenal, who went on to dominate the decade, winning three successive championships. And one hardly needs point up the disingenuous smirks with which Englanders discuss Geoff Hurst's extra time goal in the 1966 World Cup Final, which are doubtless on the lips of German fans today. In both games, it was clear who ultimately deserved to win.
But then, some argue, now that we have such technology, which is applied in tennis and rugby, why not apply it in football? Well, for one thing, both tennis and rugby are games which are full of pauses in play, changes of end, interruptions. The technology slots in well to such games. In football, which is already increasingly blighted by outbreaks of heated, onfield litigation, you can be sure that the natural flow of the game would be broken up even more.
There is also the principle, cited by FIFA, of expense. It is one thing to have VT installed at the high end of the game, the World Cup, the Champions League. But then how far down into the domestic leagues can such a fundamental change in the way the game is refereed be applied? It is one of the virtues of football that the rules as abided by in organised leagues of pub teams on Hackney Marshes are the same as those abided by at the Nou Camp. In a game that is becoming increasingly high ended and subject to corporate forces, this egalitarian thread feels sovereign. Video Technology would be in breach of that. Sure, it's been argued, there are no fourth officials or technical areas on Hackney Marshes. Fair point, but these are far less radical tools of adjudication. Moreover, despite the claims of VT advocates that they would be sparing in its use, there's little doubt that once introduced it would be the thin end of the wedge – pressure would soon be applied, and succumbed to, for video adjudication on penalties, offsides, free-kicks, off-the-ball incidents. Then you would have a two-tier football – one at the high end, full on interruptions and contested decisions, the other its poor, increasingly detached, video-less relation.
Rugby is a salutary example in other ways. A relatively small sport compared with football, it's been subjected to all kinds of modernisation (Murdochisation?) in order to make a play for a bigger audience, suffering the undignified uprooting of many of its traditions. It isn't just video technology, it's giant hooters in lieu of final whistles and teams renamed The Rhinos. The marketing people, the meddlers, have been able to have their way with it, and to an extent, cricket. They would love to do the same to football and have certainly succeeded in making some inroads in some ways. However, the deep-rooted, worldwide nature of the game has made it fundamentally resistant in other respects. In football, you still get teams called Wanderers and Rovers. There are, as yet, no Super leagues, 39th games. And there is, as yet, no video technology. It's all of a piece.
The most loudly professed concern of those pressing for VT is fairness. However, in the balance of things, a sort of makeshift karma, or simply the laws of chance, ensures that eventually these things balance out – cf, 1966, 2010. The imperfections of the present system should function as a reminder that this is just a game, which should be neither overvalued nor undervalued as such. Moreover, if fairness is the paramount concern, than there are surely far more pressing issues to address in the modern game – the super-privileges of the top few moneyed teams in Europe, and their continued efforts to ensure that the ladder of opportunity is pulled up behind them, with success and access to the best emerging talent exclusive to them in perpetuity. Or the way fans are increasingly squeezed by opportunistic club owners, some of whom are making them pay for their own, ill-advised, leveraged purchases. These represent far larger injustices than the odd bad decision visited on a just wage earner like Frank Lampard.