It would be nice to be reporting that Stoke’s stirring second half comeback against Spurs yesterday had resulted in the outcome the players deserved.
Instead a second half display of spirit and (whisper it) no small measure of skill was ultimately in vain. While some wayward finishing obviously played its part, the match will be remembered for yet another controversial refereeing decision.
Chris Foy’s non-decision in awarding Stoke a goal or possibly a penalty sparked the latest debate into the need or otherwise for technology in football and no doubt it will move us one step closer to seeing video referees or whatever introduced to the game. The question is whether it would have made any difference yesterday.
I’m not convinced. I saw another game from another sport yesterday in which technology not only made no difference to a controversial decision but merely served to add to the feelings of grievance for one club and its supporters.
St Helens had been playing Crusaders in an important Super League game; important in that St Helens needed to win to challenge for the second play-off spot in the League.
Midway through the second half, with the game in the balance, the video ref was called on to judge whether a Saints player had the ball grounded over the try line. Replays on the television – also shown at the ground – showed conclusively that it wasn’t and the commentators at the game along with all the fans watching and the players themselves waited for the inevitable decision of ‘No Try’.
As always the reaction of players is telling, in this case because St Helens were not expecting to kick for a conversion. But one man watching the replays had come to a different conclusion and his was the only opinion that mattered.
What this shows in my view is that there will often be a human element in decisions regardless of any supporting technology (which in itself is not infallible).
One of the most commented aspects on how Chris Foy had come to his non-decision in the Spurs game, was the way in which he looked across to his assistant in spite of the fact that he was clearly in a far better position to make the call himself. Only he can say what was going on in his head but one possibility is that he just didn’t want to make a decision.
Again there is a comparison with Super League, where video refs are only present for televised games. It is very noticeable that the ref makes decisions differently when technology is available. This is inevitable but it changes the dynamic of the game and does not mean bad decisions aren’t made. They are just made differently.
My fear for football is that technology is introduced as a way dealing with controversial decisions like Chris Foy’s, but I think it might end up as a bit of a cop out unless the human element is addressed at the same time.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.