SOCCER is a deeply boring game. It’s true – and that comes from someone who watches his fair share of it; who pays Rupert Murdoch, indeed, in order to watch his fair share of it.
Squinter estimates that 60 per cent of live games on television are of the there’s-90-minutes-I’m-never-getting-back variety. Dull, pedestrian, wearisome.
Squinter also watches and listens to his fair share of post-match analysis, on TV and on the radio, and generally speaking the punditry is much more interesting than the game. And that’s because the talking heads are almost always discussing not the match, but refereeing decisions. Which is why Squinter’s surprised to read that the English FA is edging towards the introduction of goalline technology, and indeed that an experimental system could be in place for Premiership matches as early as next season. For if you take the refereeing rickies out of the game of soccer, you’re taking one of the last sources of real excitement out of what’s an increasingly unattractive product.
Perhaps the goalline technology is a way of satisfying the clamour of the radio phone-in masses for wholesale changes to the way the game is refereed. Their shrill voices are heard every week as every latest dodgy sending-off or offside catastrophe is analysed ad nauseam on the airwaves. Instances of the ball crossing the line and no goal being given are rare; instances of the ball not crossing the line and the referee pointing towards the centre spot are rarer still. They do happen, of course, just as foxes occasionally run on to the pitch and parachutists get stuck on the roof of the stand, but count them up over the course of a Premiership season and you’ll see how much of a sideshow the goalline technology debate really is. (The English FA’s new openness to goalline technology might also be a sly dig at
FIFA after the Germany-England World Cup game in South Africa last year when Frank Lampard’s shot crossed the line by two feet and play was waved on; had that goal been given, then of course England, instead of crashing out, would have gone on to beat the Germans 10-3 and would have progressed untroubled and serene to take the trophy.
The simple, no-fuss way of solving the problem of wrong decisions is to have a video referee, the way they do in rugby. Every decision would be correctly made in 20 seconds, a blink of an eye in soccer terms, for, as Arsene Wenger pointed out last week, the on-field shenanigans occasioned by duff calls last a lot longer than referrals would. But take the wrong calls out of the game and you will deal it a grievous blow. What will they talk about post-game on Match of the Day? What will the Monday Night Club on Radio Five Live debate? What will Hawksbee and Jacobs prattle on about on TalkSport? What will the tipsy TV audience have to give off about down the pub or on You’re On Sky Sports?
They might talk about great goals, or the Christmas tree formation or zonal marking, but they won’t; or not much anyway. Crystal Palace’s Darren Ambrose scored the goal of the season so far at Old Trafford last week, but it was remarked upon approvingly and then the herd moved on to graze on the richer pastures of dud referees. For every ten seconds of chat about that goal, we had half an hour of Chelsea’s David Luiz not getting a red card and Liverpool’s Jay Spearing making the long walk. Because while only some of us enjoy a Monet landscape and even fewer a Shakespearean sonnet, deep down we all love a row.
And that, then, is soccer’s dirty secret; that far from being a blight on the game, dodgy refereeing is its most precious asset. TV audiences see the goal of the season from two different angles; they see a disputed handball from eight.
And if a couch potato like Squinter knows this, how much more acutely aware of what side their croissants are buttered on are the fat money men of UEFA, FIFA and the English FA?