James Lawton: Dark days will go on until video replays are used


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Football's failure to deal with the crisis of confidence in the ability of referees to survive ordeal by TV replay has now gone beyond outrage. It is perverse.

In the past the delay could be attributed to some weird combination of official obduracy and an insistence on putting the ego and tender feelings of a match official before a growing volume of grotesque mistakes – one that is threatening to distort seriously the current season.

Now it is impossible to know quite what it would take to persuade the rulers of the world's most popular game to join cricket, tennis and rugby (both codes) in embracing the TV technology that can explain within seconds precisely what happened to everyone in the world except those who have to make the vital game and season-changing decisions.

This has to be the reaction to this week's extraordinary decision of the Professional Game Match Officials board to appoint Chris Foy (above) to Premier matches tomorrow and Tuesday.

Many believed Foy's atrocious handling of the Stoke-Tottenham game last Sunday would lead, inevitably, to his standing down this weekend and his re-insertion in the list when some of the heat had gone. It is, after all, the way it generally goes in the Premier League.

Instead, while stepping back from the crowning insult to aggrieved managers of giving Foy a plum assignment like Sunday's Manchester City-Arsenal, the Game Board decided that the man who effectively destroyed the competitive foundation of the Stoke-Spurs match will preside over Fulham-Bolton tomorrow and Wolves-Norwich on Tuesday.

The insult is, however, still wretched and still profound.

Foy's work was a travesty of professional, even-handed control. At a conservative estimate, he made four serious errors, all at the expense of title contenders Spurs and then compounded the disaster by cheaply dismissing a Spurs player. We then learned that their manager Harry Redknapp would be spared prosecution over his post-game protests.

Foy's escape from even token punishment would be less outrageous if his performance had not come at the end of a series of glaring, match-shaping mistakes by his top-flight colleagues, eight of whom were listed by the guru of refereeing, the former Fifa match official Graham Poll, in his newspaper column.

Over his most recent contribution to the debate ran the extended headline: "These are dark days indeed for the men in black, so can we be confident our referees won't turn into Christmas Turkeys?" Poll concluded his piece thus: "These are worrying times. I believe we do have excellent officials, but they have to prove it."

Unfortunately, it is a little late for such a face-saving exercise. What they need is not heavenly guidance, it is something available at the flick of a TV switch.

They need – how many times do we have to say it? – a little help. This is help which doesn't have to be signalled by the bugler of the Seventh Cavalry but simply a word into the referee's headset.

Maybe the worst aspect of the crisis is the misconception that the authorities are protecting the officials with their Luddite stance. The opposite is true. They are exposing the referees to mounting ridicule as the evidence builds that the game is now too fast, and unscrupulous, to be monitored without the help of technology.

The man named to control Sunday's pivotal encounter between City and Arsenal is Phil Dowd. An experienced, respected official he may be, but it is also true that a few weeks ago Dowd booked Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand instead of the real miscreant, Romelu Lukaku.

Mistakes happen, it is true. But the scandal is that they no longer have to go uncorrected and lay waste to competitive integrity.